Proposed Actions Affecting Our Environment –
Why You Should Care!
By Bill Nutt Director, Everglades Protection Alliance and The Everglades Foundation
Some of you will recall that over twenty years ago Miami-Dade County and a group of developers proposed that the Air Force permit civilian commercial operations at Homestead Air Reserve Base (“HARB”). Ocean Reef members joined with local and national environmental groups to oppose commercial operations at HARB because of the environmental damage such operations would cause to Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. After years of study and litigation, the Department of Defense issued a Record of Decision in January 2001 prohibiting any civilian commercial operations at HARB and instructed Miami-Dade County to consider the environment surrounding HARB when approving any relaxation of zoning regulations in this area.
Some members of the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners, however, never gave up the concept of using HARB as a commercial air facility and recently proposed two initiatives that would create significant environmental issues in direct conflict with the January 2001 Record of Decision.
In October 2020, the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners approved a resolution directing the Mayor to enter into negotiations with the Air Force to secure a Joint Use Agreement (a “JUA”) permitting civilian commercial operations at HARB. While suggesting such operations would involve only a Fixed Based Operator (“FBO”), essentially a fueling station, and smaller jets and cabin class aircraft, some of the Commissioners expressed their vision for HARB as a cargo hub for large transport planes to and from the Caribbean, Central and South America, and even Africa. These operations would clearly be in conflict with the January 2001 Record of Decision because they present significant environmental issues for Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park, and surrounding areas, including of course, Ocean Reef.
More recently, a number of Commissioners in March 2021, proposed moving the Urban Development Boundary (the “UDB”), a line which protects the Everglades from further development, closer to HARB to accommodate a proposed 800-acre industrial complex. Proposed tenants of such an industrial complex would include Amazon and Fed Ex, which already have warehouse facilities near HARB, and likely would use HARB’s long runway as a cargo hub if permitted to do so.
In response to these two environmental threats, we formed the Everglades Protection Alliance (“EPA”), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating our community and its elected representatives about the negative environmental effects of a JUA and movement of the UDB as proposed by some members of the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners. These two proposals are linked because moving the UDB would facilitate a road permitting trucks to access HARB if it becomes a cargo hub. To date, we are part of a coalition of approximately 60 local, state, and national groups such as The Everglades Foundation, Friends of the Everglades, Bonefish Tarpon Trust, Captains for Clean Water, etc., to oppose both of these threats to our environment.
On January 12, 2022 at 4:30p.m. in the Cultural Center, EPA will host a panel of experts to discuss the issues created by the proposed cargo operations and boundary movement. We would like to not only invite all Members to come and participate but through this article introduce these issues because you may be seeing coverage in the local news media of these important issues.
You might ask how do these proposals affect us in Monroe County and why should we care if the Air Force permits civilian operations including cargo at HARB or Miami-Dade County moves the UDB to accommodate an industrial complex? The short answer is that a large number of cargo aircraft taking off or landing at HARB will create noise and unspent fuel pollution in Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. The County’s Airport Division estimates that there would be 19,750 annual operations (a takeoff or landing), or once every 18 minutes of every day. The flight patterns for landing jets would go right over the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, areas that attract more than three million visitors to Florida each year and where the Federal and State governments have spent literally billions of dollars over the past 30 years to restore the Everglades and to provide fresh water to South Florida.
The arguments in favor of these proposals are essentially that civilian use will provide the County and Air Force with revenue from fuel taxes and landing fees. In addition, the proponents suggest that such activities would provide a new source of jobs for residents of Miami-Dade County. On January 12, we will explain why neither argument is persuasive when you understand the negative environmental impact and the unfavorable economics of creating civilian cargo facilities and the loss of jobs in the tourism, fishing, and related industries if cargo operations are permitted. Finally, we may know by January 12 if Miami-Dade has secured from the recent Infrastructure Bill as much as $5 billion for expanding cargo operations at Miami International Airport, which is a much more cost effective alternative to HARB and poses fewer environmental hazards than starting a new cargo operation at HARB.
As Teresa Holmes, Chairman of EPA has said, “The location couldn’t be worse. In close proximity to Everglades National Park 8 miles to the west, Biscayne National Park 1.5 miles to the east and just north of the continent’s only living coral reef.”
Finally, we have approached the Florida Congressional Delegation, as well as elected officials in Monroe and Miami-Dade County asking them to help stop both the JUA and UDB movement. Senator Rubio has written a very thoughtful letter to the Air Force opposing the JUA and UDB initiatives on both environmental and military preparedness grounds. A number of our Members have also been very helpful in reaching Senators and Congressmen in other states to explain that the Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park are not just Florida treasures but national treasures that everyone’s tax dollars have sought to restore and protect.
In short, please join us on January 12, 2022 at 4:30p.m. in the Cultural Center to discuss these proposals in detail and what must be done to oppose them.