Extending the 836/Dolphin Expressway over protected wetlands in Miami-Dade County is drawing new scrutiny from South Florida water managers.
On Thursday, South Florida Water Management District board member Carlos "Charlie" Martinez, who represents Miami-Dade, asked district staff to pay close attention to the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now in the midst of reviewing an application from the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, or MDX, to build over protected wetlands.
Martinez worries the project could interfere with ongoing work to fix the Everglades. Or worse.
"Developers will come, and then we're going to have other issues we're going to have to deal with," he said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on a bill to abolish MDX, which could derail the project. Some Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers complained the agency, chaired by County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, wielded too much power. MDX has sued to block the move.
MDX and Gimenez want to extend the highway across the Bird Drive Basin west of Southwest 157th Avenue to relieve congestion in South Dade. The undeveloped basin has historically been used to recharge the region's shallow aquifer. The district and U.S. Department of Interior also planned to use part of the basin to build a reservoir to bring water to Biscayne Bay and parched southern marshes on land they purchased over the years.
That project was abandoned when engineers discovered too much water would leak from the reservoir. But district director Drew Bartlett said Thursday there are still plans for the land.
"We're in the juncture where there's a footprint...a project that's needed that's not designed or planned and a roadway that's trying to get put forward," he said.
Bartlett said the district wrote to MDX explaining that an Everglades project was needed on the land. He plans to meet with Col. Andrew Kelly, over oversees the Corps' Jacksonville District, this month to make sure the Corps doesn't approve the wetlands permit without considering the project.
Gimenez has said the 13-mile stretch of highway can't be used to allow additional development and won't interfere with water supplies.
But Betty Osceola told water managers Thursday the Miccosukee Tribe uses the basin for water and had not been consulted about the highway.
"They just put their path right there without any consideration of our water supply," she said. "The tribe has a water supply. They have lands there. If that extension is built and there's an accident that destroys our water supply, whose purse do we come looking for?"
The Corps is taking public comment on MDX's application to build over wetlands. Comments must be postmarked by July 26 and can be emailed to Megan.L.Clouser@usace.army.mil or mailed to 9900 SW 107th Ave., Suite 203, Miami, Florida 33176. Comments may also be phoned in at 305-526-7182.