Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

Bill moving to speed up Miami-Dade port dredge project

TALLAHASSEE — The Miami-Dade delegation stands poised for a big win: legislation that would speed up the Port of Miami Deep Dredge.

On Monday, the Florida House passed a second bill that would help the stalled project to move forward.

Similar language was also included in a proposal that won the approval of the House last month — and in the transportation and economic development budget that got a nod from both chambers over the weekend.

Still, environmental groups aren't backing down. They are stepping up their efforts to protect Biscayne Bay with a new Internet video, and they are pledging to keep the fight alive in Tallahassee.

"This is bad policy," said David Cullen, lobbyist for the Sierra Club Florida. "It is bad for Biscayne Bay, and it is bad because you are messing with access to fundamental basic justice."

The $150 million Port of Miami dredge is a priority for Gov. Rick Scott and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But the project is being held up by challenges from environmental groups and the community of Fisher Island.

An administrative law judge has ordered a hearing for August.

Gimenez and backers of the project want to get started right away.

That's where Miami-Dade lawmakers are trying to step in. Their proposals would require any legal challenges to dredging projects to be heard within 30 days of the motion being filed.

"It is very important to the mayor and the delegation," said House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

But Cullen, of the Sierra Club, said any such rules would make it so lawyers did not have time to prepare their cases.

"This bill was crafted to reach down and arrive at a specific outcome in a legal proceeding," Cullen said. "It's unfair and a clear example of lawmakers overreaching."

Cullen acknowledged the road ahead would be tough, particularly with the language tucked into the transportation budget bill.

Lopez-Cantera was confident. "I don't anticipate the language will change," he said.

Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contribute to this report.

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