From Crap to Key: Ex-Miami Beach Official Wants to Create Island Out of Port Tunnel Fill

The Port of Miami Tunnel might be a boondoggle, but its construction continues apace. With a giant drill now in place, the big dig begins next month. The debate is now over where to dump the tons of crud. Environmentalists don't want it on Virginia Key, where a port contractor tore up protected mangroves while depositing the fill in March.

Enter Aristotle Ares, a retired, 87-year-old Miami Beach public works engineer.

His idea: Dump the crap into Biscayne Bay and -- boom! -- we've got a brand-new island.

Ares -- a World War II veteran with more Greatest Generation stories than Tom Brokaw -- says he was a young draftsman for the Miami Beach engineering department (now public works) shortly after the war when he noticed pilings just north of Di Lido Island.

He says he discovered they were left over from an unfinished project to build Venetian Island No. 5, also known as Isola di Lolando. (Ares says he dubbed the pilings "Pelican Island" because of the ocean birds that would roost on them, but that name doesn't seem to have stuck and shouldn't be confused with the nature preserve north of the Julia Tuttle Causeway.)

Venetian Island No. 5 was never built, however. According to Ares, a barge working on the island overturned during the massive 1926 hurricane, drowning its crew members and leaving nothing but Lolando's concrete skeleton protruding from the water.

When Ares read about the port tunnel project, he realized the county could kill two birds with one stone: Use the fill to finally build the long-lost Venetian island.

"Just create the island, hook it up to the Julia Tuttle causeway, and have some developer come in and develop it," he says. "There are lots of brilliant minds out there who would jump at the chance.

"It would create an untold number of jobs for our ailing economy," Ares asserts.

As commonsense as his plan might be, there are obstacles. First and foremost, if the chemical composition of the fill is questionable enough to have environmentalists fight its use on Virginia Key, there is little chance it would be kosher to carve an island out of the stuff.

"That's the craziest fricking idea," says Biscayne Bay boat captain and conservationist Dan Kipnis. "First of all, he'd never get it past the government. There are rare grasses there."

Kipnis says times have changed since 1926 and more islands in Biscayne Bay don't make sense these days.

"What are you going to do with the island, put more development on it? Not in this economy," he says. "Besides, the whole fucking place is going under water in 50 or 60 years. What's the point?"

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.