Port of Miami Deep Dredge Clears Final Hurdle As Environmentalists Drop Lawsuit

Prepare to be dredged.

After a five-month legal standoff over a controversial plan to deepen the Port of Miami using explosive charges, environmentalists have relented. Three groups opposed to the project have dropped their lawsuit in exchange for legal fees and the establishment of a $1,310,000 trust fund to mitigate effects of the deep dredge.

"Their permit sucked," says Biscayne Bay boat captain Dan Kipnis, one of the plaintiffs. "This permit doesn't suck as much."

Last November, Kipnis joined the Tropical Audubon Society and Biscayne Bay Water Keeper in suing to stop the Deep Dredge. Like Kipnis, Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds insists that the settlement was what was best for the Bay.

"We've got to help Biscayne Bay come back after they are done blasting," she says. "For the first time, the public will be able to see the data collected in real time, and to see for themselves if a violation happens."

"The reason why we intervened from beginning was that the draft permit was not protective enough of Biscayne Bay," Reynolds explains. "The economic driver argument behind the port was so strong, we wanted to make sure that people understood that Biscayne Bay was also an economic driver."

"You saw what BP oil spill did to tourism in the Gulf," she says. "A two year dredge project could have an even worse affect."

Reynolds says that, once it was clear that there was no stopping the project, the goal was to make the permit "stronger" and reduce the damage.

But she admits that while the settlement ensures greater monitoring and restoration, it does nothing to reduce the amount or depth of dredging.

We didn't get everything that we wanted," Reynolds concedes. "But the county agreed to a lot more monitoring and restoration. We will be able to see the problems as they happen." She added that the $1.31 million trust fund ensures that projects to plant mangroves and sea grass, restore dunes, and plant both natural and artificial coral reefs won't be empty promises.

"Those things will help Biscayne recover," she says. But Reynolds still doesn't buy the idea that the dredge can be done without damaging the Bay."The Army Corps (of Engineers) claims that there will be no impact, but it is just not true," she says. "Whenever you change the turbidity you affect the food web. Sea grass will be impacted... you just cannot do this project without hurting the ecosystem."

Environmentalists did win another concession, however. If county commissioners approve the settlement on May 1, it will bar Army engineers from blasting for an hour and a half after sunrise and before sunset, when sea life is most active.

Kipnis said he was "not thrilled" by the agreement, but had little choice. "If we lost (the complaint), they were going to go after us for attorney fees," he says. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life homeless because of Biscayne Bay. So what I tried to do was get the best deal possible."

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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.

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