Monday, June 14, 2021

Sierra Club to Florida Cabinet: Stop the Everglades Snakeway!

Last week, Sierra Club Florida sent the following letter to Florida Governor DeSantis and rest of the Florida Cabinet ahead of their vote Tuesday, June 15th to ask them to uphold the ruling of a FL Administrative Law Judge that found Miami-Dade's resolution for the proposed 836 tollway expansion violated numerous provisions of the Community Planning Act and were inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan.

"It is time for the Florida Cabinet to cut off the "head" of the invasive #EvergladesSnakeway 🐍 that threatens Everglades restoration efforts and the climate resiliency of South Florida." - Diana Umpierre, Organizing Representative, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign.

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June 11, 2021

Governor Ron DeSantis 
Ashley Moody, Attorney General of Florida 
Nicole "Nikki" Fried, Commissioner of FL Department of Agriculture & 
Consumer Services 
Jimmy Patronis, Chief Financial Officer of Florida 

Via email:
GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com 
ashley.moody@myfloridalegal.com 
Nikki.Fried@FDACS.gov 
CFO.Patronis@myfloridacfo.com

RE: Miami-Dade County SR-836 Extension Recommended Order
DOH Case Nos: 18-005696GM and 18-005695GM

Dear Members of the Florida Cabinet:

On behalf of Sierra Club Florida and its nearly 240,000 members and supporters, we urge you to adopt the Petitioners' Joint Proposed Final Order, which directs Miami-Dade County to rescind the Comprehensive Plan (Plan) amendments adopted by Miami-Dade County on September 27, 2018.  The Governor and Cabinet can and should uphold the recommended order on Limonar Development, LLC, et al. v. Miami-Dade County, Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) Case No. 18-5695GM, by Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk, which found that the Plan amendments violated numerous provisions of the Community Planning Act and were internally inconsistent with the Plan itself.  It held that the proposed expansion of Miami-Dade's SR-836 tollway demonstrated inconsistency with Everglades restoration efforts, with Miami-Dade County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan, and with state law.  We also urge you to reject Miami-Dade County's forty-seven (47) exceptions to the Recommended Order.  

Sierra Club is a long-time member of the Everglades Coalition, along with Everglades Foundation, Everglades Trust, Audubon Florida, National Parks Conservation Association and Tropical Audubon Society. The Everglades Coalition has written numerous letters over the years, the most recent sent on June 24, 2020, explaining why the Coalition is opposed to a highway extension at the proposed location; this has been an on-going battle for over twelve years.  Other comments in opposition to the SR-836 Extension include an April 9, 2018 Guest Opinion from Everglades Coalition Co-Chairs, a June 19, 2018 letter signed by multiple organizations, and a September 26, 2018 Sierra Club letter.  These letters expand upon the reasons why the proposed SR-836 Extension would be catastrophic to Everglades Restoration efforts and sabotage the investments made over the decades to protect this one-of-a-kind natural resource.

The strong arguments against the tollway extension are many.  

The SR-836 Tollway Extension:
  • Would eliminate the open space buffer that is critical to Everglades restoration and provides other essential ecological services that benefit South Florida.
  • Was adopted by the County absent a determination of consistency with Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), therefore their decision was based on inadequate data and analysis.
  • Would destroy wetlands in habitats critical to threatened or endangered species, including the Pennsuco, which is inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP).
  • Threatens the Redland; it would reduce our agricultural lands by inducing sprawl.
  • Would strangle the Everglades by spurring development of buffer lands, impacting our drinking water recharge basins, wetlands, and lands needed to re-establish much needed freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
  • Be a blow to the commuters of Miami by adding more traffic to the Dolphin and Palmetto Expressways, while shortchanging transit projects that would deliver better and longer term commuting options for a sustainable Miami.
  • Raised concerns by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 2009 and 2011 because MDX's proposed plan lacked sufficient data to make a determination about the project's effect on Everglades restoration.
  • Raised concerns by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in 2018 regarding the road's potential impact on an Everglades restoration project during the state review process.
  • Threatens the Bird Drive and Dade-Broward Pennsuco project investments meant to direct water from the east and west to the Southern Everglades while ensuring that water remains in the natural areas and away from the urban corridor.  These wetlands act as the hydrological buffer between the high water table of Everglades National Park and the Water Conservation Areas, and the lower water table of the developed areas to the east.
  • Imperils the agricultural and wetlands that act as essential buffers between the Everglades conservation water conservation areas, Everglades National Park and urban Miami-Dade County, that recharge the Biscayne water supply aquifer, and feed freshwater to Florida Bay.
  • Would cost more than $1 billion dollars, a heavy burden to taxpayers, without resolving the transportation challenges faced by the county; the new corridor might make meager improvement to mobility in the West Kendall area but no overall improvement in commutes from West Kendall to downtown, the airport, or other employment and urban centers to the east and north.
  • Does not solve the problem it was intended to solve; it creates new expensive problems and offers only unproven benefits at the cost of proven harms.
  • Violates state planning law.
It has been shown, in Florida and across the nation, that new highways lead to more cars on the roads and renewed patterns of traffic congestion. We do not have to look far for proof:  In 2013, former Miami-Dade Chief Planner Mark Woerner stated it well:  "Look at the history. We built the Palmetto and filled that up. We built the Turnpike to the west and filled that up." Testimony from the county's own experts in 2019 revealed that drivers would shave a mere six minutes off a two-hour commute as a result of this project's implementation, which belies the claims made by the project's promoters.

The SR-836 Tollway Extension would snake 14 miles outside of the Miami-Dade Urban Development Boundary (UDB) through active agricultural lands, through environmentally sensitive lands, and through the West Wellfield, only to connect with the existing expressway operating at a level of service lower than it operates at today.  It would impact water quality and disrupt fragile ecosystems and natural resources on the Miami-Dade County periphery, which the State has invested significant resources toward protecting and preserving for the benefit of all Floridians.  Placing this tollway outside of the UDB is inconsistent with the very intent of the UDB, and the proposed tollway, unfortunately, would harm rather than help the people, land, water, and wildlife it would literally and figuratively touch. 

The State of Florida and federal government have invested billions of dollars to restore America's Everglades. A county must not unilaterally jeopardize taxpayers' investment in Everglades restoration.
 
In August of 2019, the U.S. EPA stated that "this project as proposed may have substantial and unacceptable adverse secondary impacts to the Greater Everglades wetland ecosystem and direct impacts to 350 acres of freshwater wetlands located in the Bird Drive Basin and within Congressionally authorized CERP project boundaries that are an [Aquatic Resource of National Importance] ARNI." We agree.

In September 2019, the Cabinet denied a request by Harmony Ranch that would have negatively directly impacted over 2,000 acres of agricultural land located outside the Urban Services District.  The MDX proposed 836 extension would imperil a much greater area of land and a much broader array of natural resources and listed species.

We urge you to uphold the Judge's ruling and close this chapter to make way for new projects that will benefit and protect us all.  There are proven and more effective ways to address mobility issues in Miami-Dade, and there are many already working on making the transportation system in the county both sustainable and efficient. One such proposal, with far less impact to CERP and natural resources was presented to the Miami-Dade County Commission in 2018 before their vote and ignored.  This highway extension puts the resilience of not just Miami-Dade, but all of South Florida, at risk.  

Sincerely,

Deborah L. Foote, MPA
Acting Chapter Director
Sierra Club Florida
200 West College Ave. # 314
Tallahassee, FL 32301
deborah.foote@sierraclub.org
850.727.4039 (office)
251.533.1798 (mobile)

Diana Umpierre, AICP, GISP
Organizing Representative
Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign
PO Box 2347/136A S Main St, Belle Glade, FL 33430
diana.umpierre@sierraclub.org
954.829.7632

Noel Cleland
Chair
Sierra Club Miami Group
ncleland@earthlink.net

cc: Chief of Staff Adrian Lukis: adrian.lukis@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Alex Kelly: alex.kelly@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Anna DeCerchio: anna.decerchio@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Beau Beaubien: Beau.Beaubien@eog.myflorida.com 
Legislative Affairs Director Stephanie Kopelousos: stephanie.kopelousos@eog.myflorida.com
Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez: LtGovernorJeanette.Nunez@eog.myflorida.com
Barbara Leighty, Clerk, Administration Commission: barbara.leighty@laspbs.state.fl.us

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