Virginia Key Protection
Update: May 2012 Response to Miami Herald Story
Thank you, Miami Herald, for endorsing the Virginia Key Oversight Committee.
I wanted to clarify a few things:
1. Virginia Key contains a 700-acre state-designated Critical Wildlife Area (most of it is underwater, mangroves) but the island is not the CWA. VK is 1000 acres.
2. The Port of Miami Tunnel construction did not take place on Virginia Key. The damage was caused by a contractor depositing excavated material from the tunnel construction
on the contaminated landfill on Virginia Key. The tunnel construction is actually taking place in Government Cut.
3. The sewage spills on Virginia Key are not from leaky pipes (that we know of) but from the Sewage Treatment facility actually releasing raw sewage
into the surrounding bay waters from defective or malfunctioning equipment. The Treatment Plant was built in the 1950's and apparently not upgraded since 1970's.
The pipe carrying raw sewage from Miami Beach to Virginia Key is defective and could rupture at any moment. Although the County has made it a priority
to fund and replace the section that is Government Cut - because the Port of Miami Deep Dredge is most important to County officials apparently.
However, the section that goes from Fisher Island to Virginia Key has more defective parts and therefore, poses an even greater danger of rupturing -
but County has not allocated funds nor prioritized replacing that section yet.
4. The legal settlement on the Port of Miami Deep Dredge that will fund restoration on the North Point of Virginia Key does not eliminate the extensive damage
that will be caused by the 600 days of blasting and dredging within the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve and off shore. Acres of coral reefs and sea grass beds
will be destroyed plus unknown damage from turbidity levels that will not be controlled, resulting in permanent loss of acres of sea grass communities and
wildlife that depends on a very interconnected ecologically fragile ecosystems, in addition to the destruction of corals and other sea life that now thrive
within and surrounding the shipping channels, including the rare hybrid coral.
The cumulative, secondary damage from docking of larger vessels is unaccounted for (oil spills, groundings in coral reefs and bay bottom, bilge deposits)
as is the possibility of increased salinity to brackish waters of Biscayne Bay (as no studies were ever done by Army Corps, despite request
from the South Florida Water Management District years ago).
The Port of Miami Deep Dredge is an environmentally destructive project and the lawsuit settlement does not make everything OK about the project
even if the County has agreed to allocate additional funds for mitigation projects in other parts of the Bay or uplands of Virginia Key.
If you have any questions or want more information on the history, ecology and planning on Virginia Key - please feel free to contact me at (305) 794-3392.
I spent a year writing about the island and there are also a lot of articles and links to more info on the blog. www.viewfromvirginiakey.blogspot.com
Also, I would be glad to take anyone from editorial board around the island to show you first hand,
Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Impacts
of Port of Miami Dredging and Tunnel Projects
Major environmental and civic groups in Miami are asking the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
to slow down the environmental permitting process for the proposed Port of Miami deep dredge project to assure the utmost protection
for the fragile natural resources of Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach, and even the Florida Keys.
Seagrass beds, coral reefs and water quality will be impacted by blasting, boring and dredging that are proposed as part of
the expansion projects at the Port of Miami, that seek to attract Post-Panamax freighter ships, the largest in the world.
The secondary, cumulative environmental impacts of transforming the Port of Miami into a major industrial port -- have also not
been properly explored nor assessed, the groups state. These impacts include subjecting the shallow bay and off shore coral reefs
to increased risk of oil spills and groundings.
"There should be no shortcuts in either the costs that will be incurred to ensure best management practices or employing the least
environmentally harmful methods available,"
stated a letter sent to Mr. Michael Carothers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection,
Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems.
The 12-page letter was signed by representatives of environmental groups representing thousands of Floridians, including: Sierra Club Miami Group,
the National Parks and Conservation Association, (NPCA), Tropical Audubon Society, Friends of Biscayne Bay, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper,
Izaak Walton League, the Environmental Coalition of Miami and Miami Beaches, Surfrider Miami, Urban Environment League, Urban Paradise Guild,
and Clean Water Action. The letter was also sent to public officials in Miami Dade County, including the newly-elected Miami-Dade County
Mayor Carlos Gimenez as well as City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and City of Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.
Among the issues discussed was a controversial proposal to use Virginia Key, a 1,000-acre barrier island within the Biscayne Bay Aquatic
Preserve that is home to a state-designated critical wildlife area, as a disposal site for port tunnel and Dredge materials.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Project Manager for the Port of Miami Dredging project is:
Michael Carothers, FDEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, phone (850) 413-7765; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Application for the Port of Miami Tunner Project was submitted to the Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Committee.
The application, DEP No., EI 13-0267159-016, has been submitted. You can obtain a copy by putting this link in your browser
What will all the blasting, all the silt in the water, and all the dredging equipment do to the environment?
Will we end up with filthy beaches, and no marine life? Are we trading our tourist economy and our marine life, and Virginia Key
for the dream of big container ships?
The US Army Corps of Engineers is going to expand the Port of Miami
Can Virginia Key Survive?
The plan is for a deep dredge of 55 feet to handle the next size container ships, post-Panamax.
The permit is pending before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is under the thumb
of Governor Rick Scott to fast track the permitting.
Read Miami Herald story
A giant step for Port of Miami tunnel construction
Here is a link to the Permit Application.
You can download the questions sent the Corps by DEP and the Corps' answer here.
April 2011 Update
A Notice of Violation was issued by DERM in April.
A contractor was cited for dumping material on top of wetlands and also destroying some mangroves.
A cease and disist order was issued and in addition to removing the fill, restoring the area and mitigation,
they may also be issued civil fines.
Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League and Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper protest the treatement of Virginia Key
Letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Subject: North Point, Virginia Key, Florida
Conceptual Environmental Resource Permit No. EC 13-0267159-001
Port Tunnel Contractor Deposits on wetlands, mangroves.
We are writing to object to the dumping of excavation materials from the Miami Harbor tunnel project on Virginia Key,
a barrier island within the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, an Outstanding Florida Water.
The City of Miami, the municipality that has jurisdiction over the North Point of Virginia Key, has allowed the Port of Miami
Tunnel contractor, Bouygues Civil Works Florida,. Inc. access to Virginia Key for the purpose of depositing tens of thousands
of cubic yards of fill material on the North Point. The contractor has been cited for depositing material on wetlands
and destroying mangroves. A “Notice of Violation” was issued by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources (DERM)
and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is investigating.
The North Point of Virginia Key is an environmentally significant and fragile area for which the Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) has identified special resource designations: Manatee No Entry Zone, the Critical Wildlife Area and
Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.
In 1994, the Florida DEP described the North Point as “highly productive fish and wildlife habitat, as well as a
movement corridor for the endangered manatee.” An extensive restoration project created five acres of coastal hammock,
four acres of dune, 12 acres of new mangrove forest and new tidal habitat where there is a thriving coastal band mangrove
community of red, white, and black mangroves.
In light of the significant environmental resources of the North Point of Virginia Key and the surrounding Wildlife Refuge and
Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, we are requesting that the Florida DEP:
- Issue an immediate Cease and Desist Order to prevent further damage to the area’s natural resources.
- Conduct an ecological assessment of the area to determine what damage has been caused by the most recent dumping of
materials, the dumping of Port of Miami dredge materials in the 1990s as well as other uses introduced over the years
by the City of Miami. These uses may be incompatible with the fragile natural resources of the uplands and submerged
lands as well as contrary to the deed restrictions set by the State of Florida when it conveyed the property to the
City of Miami in 1942.
- Request that the State of Florida manage the ecological restoration of the area, in partnership with Miami-Dade County’s
Environmentally Endangered Lands Program or other responsible entities.
- Establish a state park, preserve or wildlife refuge on Virginia Key, in particular in the North Point and Critical
Wildlife Refuge areas, to assure the protection and preservation of the area for future generations.
Thank you in advance for your attention and assistance in this matter of great public Interest.
Please add the undersigned to the list of organizations and individuals to be notified by the Florida DEP in all matters
related to this issue and permit application.
Debbie Matthews, chair
Sierra Club Miami Group
Robert S. Skinner
Izaak Walton League of America, Miami Chapter
The Izaak Walton League, Florida Keys Chapter
Alexis K. Segal, Esq.
Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, Waterkeeper and Executive Director
“Notice of Violation” issued Feb. 28, 2011, by Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management.
The Miami Herald, March 11, 2011.
Tunnel Contractor Makes Wetland Mess
North Point of Virginia Key Open to Public
The previously inaccessible (and environmentally signficant) North Point of Virginia Key is now open to the public 7 days a week
with the opening of a 4-mile mountain trail course.
Even if you don't mountain bike, it's a great opportunity to explore a hidden area of the 1,000 acre barrier island
that is surrounded by the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve. The "No Trespassing" signs have come down!
The trail head is accessible through the first entrance to Virginia Key, past the chain-linked fence and toll booth
($5 for cars, free for bicyclists). Follow the signs for the Virginia Key composting facility, towards Jimbo's,
alongside the Miami Dade Water and Sewage Facility. Eventually you'll come to a few scattered picnic tables which
doubles as parking area. From there you can walk over to the beach or up into the bike trails.
Although the spoil areas are now overrun by Australian Pines and other invasive exotics, some of the shoreline has been restored
and the rest of the peninsula is slated for ecological restoration under the Virginia Key Master Plan created with input
(and impetus) from a coalition of environmental and civic groups, including the Sierra Club Miami Group, and adopted by the
City of Miami Commission in July 2010.
The North Point of Virginia Key was deeded to the City of Miami by the State of Florida in the 1940's for construction
of a port during the Second World War, a proposal that was eventually abandoned. Until now, the City of Miami has used
the area as a repository for dredge material from the Port of Miami, the site of a composting facility and a public works yard.
But the area is an environmental gem which could be restored to create critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.
A 2009 biological assessment of the North Point by the Miami-Dade County Environmental Endangered Lands Program identified
the entire area as eligible for inclusion in the program. (The program is voluntary and so far, the City of Miami,
has not agreed to participate).
The North Point beach supports a significant amount of sea turtle nesting activity; the adjacent shallow waters contain
dense and healthy seagrass beds. A wetland and beach restoration project was completed at the northern end of
North Point to resolve a violation that occurred in 1992, when Port of Miami dredging contractors damaged seagrasses,
beach dunes and mangrove wetlands without authorization while Government Cut was being deepened, according to the EEL Report.
The mitigation resulted in creation of five acres of coastal hammock, four acres of dune, 12 acres of new mangrove forest and
new tidal habitat through the creation of new channels that run from Norris Cut to the Critical Wildlife Area.
For more articles on Virginia Key, go to www.viewfromvirginiakey.com.
Also on Facebook, there is a Friends of Virginia Key page.
- Blanca Mesa
The issue of the expansion of the Port of Miami will impact Virginia Key.
In 2003, the Army Corps of Engineers General Reevaluation Report (GRR), and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
underestimated the impact on threatened and protected wildlife and water quality in the Virginia Key State Critical Wildlife Area.
It underestimated the impact of blasting on manatee and other sea mammals habitats, as well as failing to acknowledge the loss of fish,
the amount of toxins placed in the water and on land, and generally failing to acknowledge that the area of Virginia Key and
Biscayne Bay is a critical habitat.
See Sierra Club letter to ACOE of May 9, 2003.
Also see Letters to/from DERM on fill from the tunnel project.
Request for Reuse Approval 12/8/2010
Request for Soil Classification Letter 1/17/2011
Request for Reuse 11/15/2010
Fla DOT, On Port of Miami Tunnel Project, Stockpile letter, 3/20/2011
Fla DOT, Port of Miami Tunnel Project, Stockpile map, Virginia Key, Dec 2010
August 2010 Update on the Key - by Blanca Mesa
The area of biggest contention continues to be the Marine Stadium Basin, which city officials and planners
have targeted for commercial redevelopment. But many members of the public who participated in the public planning process
envisioned a different future. Here's one wish list of proposals that restores the area to public uses:
- Surround a restored Miami Marine Stadium with a waterfront park with picnic shelters,
play areas and public gardens.
- Build a Virginia Key Welcome Center that would serve as a first stop for all cultural,
recreational public uses, where visitors pick up maps, sign up for boat tours,
and learn about the island's history.
- Build a public promenade the length of the stadium basin from the Rowing Club
to Rusty Pelican restaurant.
- Bring back the public boat launch (it's there but use is blocked by signs stated
the area is closed to public use).
- Build a Public Boat house where the general public can rent kayaks and canoes
to tool around the basin.
- Provide for bike rentals and bike paths that roll the length of the island.
Virginia Key Report: Last Call for Critical Habitats
A new biological evaluation of Virginia Key just released by Miami-Dade County's Environmentally Endangered
Lands (EEL) Program documents the barrier island contains some Miami-Dade County's last remaining critical
The evaluation was completed as part of an application filed by The Sierra Club Miami Group, Tropical Audubon
Society and Izaak Walton League South Florida Chapter last year seeking protection of vulnerable environmental
lands on the island by having the EEL program acquire and manage the environmentally significant and
endangered lands on the island. The EEL program is a tax-payer funded program created in 1990 to acquire,
restore and maintain environmentally significant lands in our community. The program is voluntary and
inclusion in the program would have to approved both by the Miami-Dade County and City of Miami commissions.
(The City of Miami has deferred approval of a new Virginia Key Master Plan that calls for expanded commercial,
marine uses and urban development infrastructure such as garages and parking lots and roadways until July 2010.)
Plant communities on the island include seagrass beds, sand and mud flats, mangrove and herbaceous wetlands,
beach dunes and coastal maritime hammock. Of the approximately 1,300 acres, submerged lands constitute 900
acres, coastal wetlands 235 acres, dunes 12 acres, maritime hammock 28 acres with an additional 7 acres of
reforested maritime hammock reclaimed from previously disturbed areas.
Key findings of the EEL evaluation show:
- Freshwater wetlands are "one of the last wetland/beach ecotones remaining in Miami Dade County."
(The only other wetland/beach ecotone of this kind within the County is located at the Bear Cut Preserve on
- A 13-acre maritime hammock forest at the center of the island is the "best example of this forest type"
in Miami-Dade County, where many plant and animal species are listed as rare or endangered. The forest is a
vital resource for wildlife species, including rare, migrating songbirds that travel down the Atlantic coast.
- Beaches and dunes on Virginia Key, which include essential sea-turtle nesting areas frequented by
loggerhead and green sea turtles, comprise a "significant amount" of this type of community in Miami-Dade
- The Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area (CWA), a 700-acre state-designated refuge with "extraordinary
habitat values" which contains the island's largest remaining portion of unaltered mangrove forest and largest
amount of unaltered, submerged land, is an important undisturbed spawning area for many species of fish and
invertebrates. The diversity of bird species in the refuge is well-documented and includes at least a dozen species of raptors - American kestral and ospreys among them. Ospreys, eagles and falcons are a common site, particularly during migration times.
- The waters surrounding Virginia Key, which is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west
by Biscayne Bay, are used by manatees for feeding, resting, mating, traveling and calving. (Atlantic
bottlenose dolphins also use the water.)
Ongoing information on Virginia Key's plans as well as articles on the ecology, history and events is
available at www.viewfromvirginiakey.com Also, on
Facebook: Friends of Virginia Key
GHOST OF TEDDY ROOSEVELT influenced Virginia Key Master Plan delay.
The Miami City Commission voted 4-0 to defer Virginia Key Master Plan until May, 2010. This gives more
time to public input and the opportunity to develop a plan that preserves the ecology, cultural and historic
assets and beauty of the island.
Miami Commissioner Tomas Regalado invoked the memory of conservation president Teddy Roosevelt to make his
decision. "What would Roosevelt say?" Regalado asked, recounting the conservation president who created five
national parks during his tenure. “I think he would say, if you want to make money from Virginia Key you
don’t develop the place. There’s nothing else like this.” Regalado said preserving the island’s beauty and
nature and restoring the Marine Stadium would bring people from all over the world to Miami, to photograph
and visit the unique wilderness island next to a major city. "History will judge what we do with this island.
We need to get it right," Regalado said.
Let Nature Rule in Virginia Key Master Plan
Editorial by Bianca Mesa
Virginia Key is not just another piece of real estate. It is one of our community's special places, a sacred
space, really, because it is our last, vast open greenness amid a sea of urbanity. We desperately need it to
Despite years of neglect, there is a power to this place. Much of it is untamed, a place of possibilities
not programmed by the hand of man. Here, a dolphin might leap out of a wave or a manatee sidle up to a rower.
And deep in the night, sea turtles nest in a ritual as ancient as the sea. Even a cursive glance at the
expanse of sky and sea around the island from the top of Rickenbacker Causeway can momentarily take your
breath away. It is that achingly beautiful.
When Miami began a master-plan process more than five years ago, I naively thought that once the
consultants came to Virginia Key they would be equally inspired. Surely they would design a plan befitting
of an island that had bestowed us with such amazing gifts. They didn't. But there is still time to correct
that. On Thursday a proposed master plan for Virginia Key will be presented to the City Commission, and it
will have an opportunity to weigh in. I'm hoping the commission's definition of ``highest and best use''
for Virginia Key matches mine: open spaces -- green forests and blue waterways, the kind of silence that
lets the you hear the wind whisper, the flutter of bird wings, the ripple of incoming tides. Less is more
when it comes to Virginia Key. Minimize concrete. Respect the wildlife. Preserve the views. Give people
access to the waterfront.
We can't let this jewel languish amid the jumble of decay and commercial clutter it has become when no one
was looking. For starters, we need to clean up the place. Plant a few trees. Park a few benches where the
views are terrific and the salty breezes blow sweetly. Then we can sit down awhile and take it all in, in
Minimize the concrete. Respect the wildlife. Preserve the views. Give people access to the waterfront.
Nature has a way of taking care of itself. If we just get out of its way.