Miami Port Deep Dredge Gets Green Light in Tallahassee, Environmentalists Outraged

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Carlos Lopez-Cantera.jpg
Carlos Lopez-Cantera represents part of Miami in the Florida House
Carlos Lopez-Cantera is having a helluva week in Tallahassee. On Monday, the Miami-based state rep requested an amendment to Florida law so that the City of Miami wouldn't have to pay taxes on the new Marlins Stadium parking garages -- never mind that such an exemption is probably unconstitutional. On the same day, Lopez-Cantera pulled another fast one. He introduced a small amendment into HB 373 that could push through the controversial Port of Miami Deep Dredge project. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill.

"We spent a lot of time and energy in last year's legislative session to secure the funding for the Deep Dredge," Lopez-Cantera tells Riptide. "More delays could kill this project. We're not going to let that loss happen."

Environmentalists are furious. They argue that the amended bill is an attempt to steamroll over their objections and circumvent court hearings set for this summer.

"This speeds everything up," says Dan Kipnis, a local boat captain who believes the Deep Dredge will scar Biscayne Bay. "They've had 13 years to prepare for this, but they can't let us have until August to prepare our argument?"

Kipnis and several other environmentalist groups sued to stop the deep dredge in November after Florida's Department of Environmental Protection had issued the project a permit. A state judge gave the environmentalists until August to prepare their case.

Now, however, Lopez-Cantera's amendment could dramatically expedite the process, and take the final decision out of the judge's hands altogether.

If the Senate passes similar legislation, HB 373 will require court proceedings on environmental resource permits "within 30 days after a party files a motion for a summary hearing, regardless of whether the parties agree to the summary proceeding."

"The administrative law judge's decision shall be in the form of a recommended order and does not constitute final agency action of the department," the bill continues. "The department shall issue the final order within 45 working days after receipt of the administrative law judge's recommended order."

If passed, the law will take effect on July 1. So instead of a court debate beginning in August, the judge will only have until August 1 to make a decision. Even then, the decision will now only be a "recommended order" that the DEP will be able to ignore.

In other words, thanks to Lopez-Cantera's amendment, expect the Deep Dredge to begin this summer.

Lopez-Cantera says that environmentalists like Kipnis and The Tropical Audubon Society should have opposed the project earlier, before the permit was approved. "Lots of global corporations are bringing billions of dollars in capital investment to the port, so it doesn't make sense to delay this thing until August just for a hearing when these groups had plenty of time," he says, adding that objections at this point are just "stall tactics."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 200px-Port_of_Miami_Florida.jpg
The deep dredging is part of a proposed $2 billion upgrade to the Port of Miami
Kipnis says he's been raising concerns for years, they just weren't headed until he filed suit.

Lopez-Cantera admits that he discussed the idea for an amendment with Port Miami director Bill Johnson, who supports it. He says the bill was largely drafted by the county attorney's office and is also backed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who urged lawmakers to "speed up" the dredge during a visit to Tallahassee this week.

Kipnis and other environmentalists point out that the bill could have far-reaching consequences. Not only does it green-light Miami's deep dredge -- which they warn will permanently damage Biscayne Bay's fragile ecosystem -- it would appear to apply to all deepwater port permits.

Jacksonville, Port Everglades, and several other ports are considering deep dredging in a bid to receive the super-sized freight ships that will soon pass through the Panama Canal. HB 373 could expedite those projects as well.

After their legal victory last month, environmentalists are now floored but what they consider a sucker-punch.

"I don't know what to do," Kipnis says. "I don't have anything to give senators or politicians to stop this. And if you don't have anything to give, you're not going to get anything in return. That's how Tallahassee works. I've got nothing to give except a clean bay, and obviously that's not good enough for them."

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

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11 comments
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anita909
anita909

When Rick Scott and his pals are gone we will shudder at what happened to our natural environment under his leadership. I cannot believe it is even legal to dredge Biscayne Bay, it is too sad. Avaricious short sighted politicians and business people are making a big mistake. Did you know that the Everglades is on the UNESCO list of endangered places? Yet we STILL want to build there further!  The reef are disappearing faster than rainforest... Think about it.Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/201... 

anita909
anita909

When Rick Scott and his pals are gone we will shudder at what happened to our natural environment under his leadership. I cannot believe it is even legal to dredge Biscayne Bay, it is too sad. Avaricious short sighted politicians and business people are making a big mistake. Did you know that the Everglades is on the UNESCO list of endangered places? Yet we STILL want to build there further!  The reef are disappearing faster than rainforest... Think about it.Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/201...

Another chump?
Another chump?

Now newly elected Mayor Carlos Gimenez is taking billboard money and allowing illegal LED billboards.

Plus helping to avoid public hearings.

Destroy Destroy
Destroy Destroy

As quick as possible these idiot politicians and overpaid bureaucrats want to destroy South Florida so connected insiders can profit.

Look at Carlos Alvarez allowing illegal LED billboards to pop up on all our highways. Hello?

Culture of corruption
Culture of corruption

Count on Port Director Bill Johnson, a County "employee for life" to lie, cheat and steal. It is the County culture.

Rpwk
Rpwk

A couple months ago a federal judge ordered Miami-Dade County to pay $4 million in damages and interest in a judgment against the Port of Miami. This follows the judge's 2008 ruling that the Port of Miami has a way ofdoling certain business permits illegally protecting incumbents creating a handful of entrenched privileged companies”. In his most recent order, the judge said evidence showed other established, qualified, competent and trustworthy,'' companies were denied permits even as some incumbents who didn't use their permits received automatic renewals.

This follows a pattern at the Port of Miami that privileged insiders are awarded business while those who are not tied into the system of lobbiests, commissioner aides and certain Port staff- are denied business. Other examples of this practice include an attempted establishment of a cement plant at the Port by a group ofinsiders (fully document by the Inspector General's Office), and an attempt to control the Port's material hauling by comissioner-connected, and Port Deputy Director's friend who waslater jailed for his activities (a Mr. Hardemon), a substantial Engineering contract award after heavy lobbying to a firm which was at the same time being indited by the State for major fraud (PBSJ), among numerous other shady activities. So why would the Port give a d--- about environmentalists or residents opposed to a project. Need to keep those tax dollars flowing to special interests.

For the most recent $4 million loss to the taxpayers of the County, noone has been held responsible. Someone should be fired over this at the very least and restitution made. Also, why has the Office of Inspector General not looked into this? Furthermore, Deputy Port Director Juan Kuryla, has said ``We don't feel the damages are warranted in this we're looking at appealing'' which will result in considerable new legal costs for the taxpayers of the County, and enabling unethicalpractices to continue.

Michael Miller
Michael Miller

Hey Rpwk,Thanks for the comment. I'd like to look into some of this. Can you give me a ring at 305.571.7544 or email me at michael.miller (at) miaminewtimes.com?

Cuba North?
Cuba North?

Since Bill Johnson is involved then corruption is involved.

What ever happened to the public's right to ask questions?

Is Florida Cuba North?

anita909
anita909

 CUBA NORTH- That sounds about right!

Who fights for nature?
Who fights for nature?

More corruption. Lopez-Cantera should be smart enough to know that the Everglades and Biscayne Bay should be protected. Lopez-Cantera is being used by connected insiders. Sad.

Who in Tallahassee is fighting to protect our environment?

anita909
anita909

James Porter is the attorney on the case here. Sierra Club has done a good job on the Numeric Nutrient Criteria bills. Center for Biological Diversity is a great group. Biscayne Bay needs more attention!

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