Virginia Key planned as Port project’s dumping site

UPDATE: This post was picked up by the industry news Web site Dredging Today after it was posted on this blog. Virginia Key Park’s North Point is the targeted site for excavated debris drilled from the billion-dollar Port of Miami project. The North Point proposed dumping site is located on the northern stretch of the mostly-undeveloped 1,300-acre barrier island adjacent to a state-designated critical wildlife area.

Environmentalists fear that the Port of Miami dumping proposal would undo recent efforts to restore parts of Virginia Key to its natural state.

Virginia Key is one of the last remaining condo-less islands with mangrove, wetland, and (recently restored) tropical hardwood hammock habitats in the Miami Downtown area. But thus far that doesn’t seem to dissuade city and state officials, who are opting for the dump site on Virginia Key to speed the Port project along, because the Key has been used previously to deposit dredged material, and for this reason would require minimum permitting and monitoring. From the 1940s to 1980s the island was altered from its natural state after it was used as a debris dumping ground for projects including the construction of the Rickenbacker Causeway, the dredging of the Marine Stadium basin and Norris Cut.

“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,” wrote environmentalists in a letter co-signed by the Sierra Club, Biscyane Bay Water Keeper, and the Izaak Walton League.

The recent Port of Miami proposal runs counter to efforts, and funding spent, to begin restoring Virginia Key.

“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,'” the environmentalists wrote. “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.”

The dump site is also right in the middle of recently-completed mountain bike trails that cut through North Point. According to FDEP’s proposal, up to 55,000 cubic yards of sandy soil that are excavated from Biscayne Bay for the new Port of Miami tunnel would be deposited on Virginia Key by contractor Bouygues Civil Works. Officials are also pushing to use the same site in the near future as from future deepening of channels. It is unclear whether the Port of Miami material would be trucked in or piped, and that is part of the issue. According to a February 25 letter from FDEP officials, some of the dredged material will contain chemical additives, such as solvents that are added to the soil to make the drilling of the tunnel successful. Some of the fill that will be deposited from the part of the project has been deemed “clean,” which the quality of the rest of the fill is currently unknown.

Virginia Key. Photo Credit: NOAA. Plans call for excavated debris to be placed north of the water treatment plant, on North Point.

Mitigation plans are minimum, including about 25 acres of wetland improvements at another location to make up for temporary disruption of wetlands off Virginia Key during the process of pumping dredged materials onto the Key. State and local officials don’t appear to have considered other options for locales to dump the excavated material.

In addition to angering environmentalists, the proposal has alarmed many who bike or hike on Virginia Key, one of the few places for such recreational activities in the city. The Sierra Club, Tropical Audubon, Biscayne Baykeeper, the Izaak Walton League and Oceanic Defense have filed objections to the request to pipe material excavated from the tunnel construction under Biscayne Bay onto the Key.

Public comments or questions on proposal to deposit tunnel excavation materials on Virginia Key can be sent by JUNE 30 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Project Manager: Indarjit.Jagnarine@dep.state.fl.us. More information is also available on the Friends of Virginia Key facebook page. The Miami Herald editorial department wrote an editorial against further neglect of this local environmentally-sensitive area. The Urban Environment League of Miami-Dade weighed in with a blog post today.

NOTE: This post was picked up June 28 by the international industry news Web site Dredging Today after it was posted on this blog. Dredging Today has been covering the Port of Miami project.

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