Port of Miami Dredge Project: Environmentalists Plot Lawsuit

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A barge gets stuck on a bed of seagrass. Environmentalists are concerned that the dredge project will permanently damage the Biscayne Bay ecosystem.
​Unlike the giant, post-Panamax freighters that might never arrive, the deep dredging of the Port of Miami approaches with near certainty. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has promised funds, regulators have given a green light, and a Brazilian construction company has already landed a $57 million contract to upgrade the port.

But all is not right in Government Cut. Miami Beach officials recently raised concerns over a defective sewage pipe running across the proposed dredge.

Now environmental groups have asked for more time to review the dredge permit and might soon sue to stop it.

Jim Porter, an attorney representing several Miami environmental groups, sent a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) last week asking for an extension of time in which to demand a hearing on the dredge project.

"We're requesting the opportunity to evaluate whether to go forward with a challenge," he explains. "We just want time to look at the facts."

The original permit process gave environmentalists only two weeks to decide whether to demand a hearing on the project, he says. Porter's September 13 letter also included a request for a lengthy list of documents relating to the project.

Porter says the extension -- and the appeal that will likely follow -- are a last-ditch effort to stop the dredge, which environmentalists say will cause more damage to rare coral and sea grass than the project is worth.

"If we don't challenge this, we won't have another opportunity to debate the terms of the permit," he says. "Contracts are already under way."

FDEP could still deny the permit if an extension is granted and environmentalists raise valid objections, says water resource management director Mark Thomasson. "But this wouldn't bring everything to a screeching halt," he says. "We wouldn't have given notice of intent to issue a permit if we didn't think it was in the best interests of the bay."

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