Miami Dade County Community Forum

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do Off Road Vehicles Belong in Big Cypress National Preserve?

The Miami-Dade Parks Department is pursuing a proposal to build a visitor center, 80 car/trailer parking lot as well as 15 miles of off road vehicle trails in the middle of the Big Cypress National Preserve at the old jetport site. While the site is located within the boundaries of the Preserve in Collier County, the land is owned by the Dade Aviation Department.

The proposal, which also includes an archery range, hiking trails and fishing ponds, is pending for approval before the Collier County Commission on January 19. If approved by Collier, the proposal will be transmitted to the state's Department of Community Affairs for further review. Existing trails at the site will be hardened for usage while others will be eliminated.

The ORV trails will be limited to an area south of the existing runway in a wetland area inhabited by wading birds. In fact, the entire site is wetland with the exception of 7% which consists of fill areas and borrow pits. The borrow pits presently hold fish and are used for fishing. They also hold alligators.

Environmental and financial objections to the plan are numerous. Some are noted below:

               1) The site lies within primary habitat of the endangered Florida panther as well as within primary and secondary bear habitat.
               2)  Almost the entire site consists of wetlands that provide habitat for wading birds including the endangered wood stork.
               3)  The drainage plan indicates the perimeter of the property would be bermed thereby limiting sheet flow across the site.
               4)  Existing borrow pits, presently used for fishing, would be used for stormwater management requiring infrastructure that will cause additional impact to the wetlands.
               5) The site is flooded for at least six months of the year and will not be available to ORV users during that time limiting the park's operation to 5-6 months since it will not be used during the very dry season either.
               6) The site lies at least an hour's drive from Dade's populated areas increasing fuel consumption as well as adding to the stress on the Tamiami Trail.
               7) The anticipated ORV usage will result in soil erosion and loss of wildlife habitat.
               8) Fishing and hiking are already permitted at the site.
               9)The site is presently designated for conservation purposes by Collier County and is an environmentally sensitive area of critical state concern.     
              10)Unauthorized riders(those without permits issued by Big Cypress)will be able to access the existing ORV trail system within the national preserve.
              11) No management plan has been formulated. That means that the parks department has no idea what a daily ridership quota will be nor whether a permit system will be required. Parks does not even have an idea of the number of riders that the site can tolerate. Big Cypress issues 2000 yearly permits for 400 miles of ORV trails. This site, which lies within the preserve, will have 15 miles of trails. Do the math!
              12) Pursuant to agreement between Dade and Collier, Collier will be entitled to half the ORV drivers allowed at the site despite not being obligated to contribute to the costs. Consequently, Dade taxpayers may face a significant investment without significant ridership at the site.
              13) Unfunded costs associated with the application process amount to almost $900,000. This includes approximately $750,000 for an environmental impact statement that must be submitted and approved by the Corps of Engineers before a permit to fill wetlands can be granted. This means that taxpayers will have to hand over almost one million dollars before a permit will even be considered. These costs will be incurred prior to any construction costs and the permit may not even be issued.
              14) Parks has no idea how much it will cost to operate a completed park nor whether the park will be financially sustainable. 

Does this sound like a good idea?     

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