What’s on the Ballot? Songbirds, Sea Turtles, and Sand Print
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
August 2017


City construction plans would despoil Virginia Key

TPix_GoingGreen_8-17he Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we may get to keep the planet. -- Joe Podgor, former director, Friends of the Everglades

This phrase comes to mind when I think of Virginia Key, which I see as a test for Miami and climate change. As a barrier island between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Key is very much in danger of washing away in the coming decades. A new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) verifies this, showing an accelerated rate of sea level rise since 2006 of one-third an inch per year. This will invariably add up to the nine inches it will take to overwhelm the place within a generation.

If we can save Virginia Key, we can save Miami. Or at least beat the odds for a while. We can show the rest of the world -- which is looking our way, wondering when we’ll drown -- that we’re a city that takes climate change seriously, that knows the planet’s future has shifted in fundamental ways and that we’re willing to change to avert disaster.

And we need to show them we’re not the kind of people who would allow the city to pour concrete over our last wilderness island.

My own quest to save Virginia Key began in 1995, when I met Mabel Miller, a retired public school biology teacher living in Key Biscayne. She showed up at my door one day with a handful of government reports in one hand, wearing her signature straw hat and pigtails, and demanded I get involved.

Miller is one of the island’s first defenders and part of a long green line descending from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, mother of the Everglades. In the 1970s, Miller fought off the Goodyear blimp folks who wanted a vast swath of Virginia Key for their blimp base. Of course, that wasn’t the end of wacky, predatory development schemes on the island. But my association with Miller taught me that no matter the player or the plan, there’s always a way to fight it, and there’s always a need to. She set me on a path to city hall meetings, zoning hearings, and community meetings that would ward off the worst proposals for years.

Today I sit on the City of Miami Virginia Key Advisory Board, created to advise the Miami City Commission on Virginia Key issues and assure that any proposals adhere to the Virginia Key Master Plan, which is conservation-minded and respectful of protecting public access to the public waterfront. That doesn’t mean the incompatible development proposals have stopped. In fact, as Miami becomes more developed, Virginia Key comes more into play.

The City of Miami Department of Real Estate and Asset Management (DREAM) is currently shepherding in the construction of a proposed marina and mixed-use development on eight acres of public waterfront (plus submerged lands) that could bring massive new construction to the island.

The final proposal, if approved by voters, may be on the ballot this November.

The land surrounding the historic Miami Marine Stadium, which was unfortunately asphalted to accommodate the Miami Boat Show, could also become a destination for year-round commercial activity. And developers are eyeing the rest of the island, too. Recently, a luxury condo developer proposed a private clubhouse at the Historic Virginia Key Beach.

If only they could see Virginia Key as Miller does, as the kayakers and the bicyclists and the beach walkers and the dune planters do. Then they wouldn’t propose anything at all. Because the genius of the place is just what’s there -- sunlight and sand, hammocks and dunes, manatees foraging in the cool, blue waters of Jimbo’s lagoon, a sea turtle nest. That would be enough.

Many, many people enjoy the island for what it truly is: a verdant paradise and escape from a crowded, artificial and stifling city. The toxic landfill at its center is being cleaned up for a future park. Twenty years of plantings by volunteers have restored native habitats. The healing has assured the return of songbirds and sea turtles -- even crocodiles now find the island hospitable for nesting.

This is the moment to finally make things right. In fact, the guiding principle for Virginia Key should be the “Organic Act” that created the U.S. National Park System in 1916: “To conserve the scenery and the nature and historic objects and wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

If we can save Virginia Key, we can save Miami. The first test may come at the voting booth in November on the marina redevelopment. Forget the ballot language. The only question voters should ask is: Does this plan respect the genius of the place? And vote accordingly.


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