What's wrong with efforts to get the natural ecosystem that drives the Everglades back to normal? Well, not only is Congress running behind with funding the massive project, but now two environmental groups claim the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is allowing a "mega-development" to be built on wetlands critical to the aquifer that fuels Everglades National Park.
"Our national parks deserve better protection than to be left to the whim of developers," says John Adornato, the Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Development here will threaten to sever the natural connection between Biscayne and Everglades national parks."
In a lawsuit filed on the last day of January, the NPCA and the Tropical Audubon Society allege that the Corps broke the law by letting a wetland fill permit move forward under the guise of agriculture, while the property owner, Atlantic Civil, Inc., and a prospective developer, Lennar Corp., want to built a huge housing development on the site.
The land in question lies between Biscayne and Everglades national parks. The wetlands help recharge the aquifer and filter the water that flows to Florida and Biscayne bays.
Atlantic Civil obtained a permit in April 2001 to fill nearly 1,000 acres of wetlands in Miami-Dade County for agricultural purposes, according to the environmental groups. However, they add that in 2004 the owner, backed by Lennar, filed plans for a development on the land that would include 6,000 homes and associated commercial businesses.
NPCA and Tropical Audubon say the Corps initially questioned the change in plans and suspended the permit, but then reversed course and extended the permit until this coming August.
"Everglades restoration success includes restoring this area to provide environmental benefits to Biscayne and Florida bays. Our tax dollars have been invested in acquiring adjacent wetlands; we must not waste that investment by cutting off life-giving waters," says Cynthia Guerra, the executive director of the Audubon group.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, charges that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act by reversing its decision on the permit without considering environmental impacts now.