Bill proposing two-mile buffer zone to protect the Everglades advances
Storm clouds gather over the Everglades.

Southwest Florida
The Everglades 'is always under threat of development,' one supporter of the buffer zone said.

A renewed effort to establish a large developmental buffer zone around the Everglades in Miami-Dade County cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday with unanimous support.

The House Environmental, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee fully endorsed a bill (HB 729) by Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis of Miami that would create a protective review process under the Department of Environmental Protection for all proposed projects within two miles of the Everglades.

“More than 25 years ago, this legislative body passed the Everglades Forever Act creating the Everglades Protection Area and putting into place long-term goals for Everglades restoration and protection,” Aloupis said.

“Close to $9 billion … in state and federal investment has been put into Everglades restoration, and I think understanding the Everglades and its importance from a natural resource perspective, as well as the significant investment that our state has made in restoration — it should be our responsibility as a body to ensure that any development within a certain range of the environmental protection area is done in a way that does not negatively or adversely impact those efforts.”

The bill, a twin to legislation Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez of Miami filed with support from Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami in November, has received endorsements from the Everglades Foundation, CLEO Institute and Sierra Club.

In many ways, it’s identical to legislation Aloupis filed in 2019 with Republican Rep. Bryan Ávila of Miami Springs. That bill died in committee.

The bill would require any plan or plan amendment concerning Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary to undergo DEP review in consultation with all federally recognized Indian tribes in Florida to determine if it would adversely impact the protected lands.

Within 30 days of receiving the proposed plan or plan amendment, DEP would have to issue a written determination, including a list of all identified adverse impacts. The department would then have to coordinate with the concerned parties on identifying strategies and measures local governments could use to eliminate or mitigate those adverse impacts.

If any portion of the project is found to potentially be damaging to the Everglades Protection Area, the appropriate local government would have to modify that part of the project so it does not negatively impact the area.

If the project is not viable without that portion of the plan, the project must be scrapped altogether.

Laura Reynolds, president of the Hold the Line Coalition, which advocates for preserving the UDB, called the years-long effort to restore the Everglades and establish a protective buffer area “a full-time job.”

Aloupis’ bill, she said, is vital to that effort.

“It is always under threat of development,” she said. “We can’t afford to have our investment in Everglades restoration and in Biscayne Bay to be sidelined by a decision where it’s made not knowing what the future holds. These projects take decades to complete and decades of funding asks, and when we continue to make decisions that are counter to that, those investments aren’t going to come from the state. We have to make sure we’re protecting that investment.”

Aloupis’ bill is still pending hearings before the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee.

Rodriguez’s bill, which was referred to the Senate Rules, Community Affairs, and Environmental and Natural Resources committees, still awaits a first hearing.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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