News / Events
Miami Corp. uses experts to back development
BY DINAH VOYLES PULVER, EDITORIAL
September 23, 2010
DELAND -- The Miami Corp. called on three environmental scientists Wednesday to convince a judge it used the best available science to conserve wetlands and wildlife while planning a development proposal for land it owns in Volusia and Brevard counties.
During the sixth day of a state administrative hearing on the proposal, the scientists testified the plan will adequately protect black bears that move around on the site and conserve the most environmentally sensitive areas.
At issue in the hearing is whether a development plan approved by Volusia County earlier this year complies with the county's land use rules. The Florida Department of Community Affairs contends it does not because the land isn't suitable for such intense development and doesn't adequately plan for schools, transportation and wildlife.
The plan calls for construction of 25,000 homes and 4 million square feet of commercial space on about 19,000 acres in Volusia and Brevard counties, with 40,000 acres set aside for conservation.
Sharon Collins, an environmental consultant, testified that she has spent thousands of hours on the property studying the land while doing work for Miami Corp. Collins testified she was asked to identify and prioritize all of the environmentally sensitive areas and design a plan that protects land of the "highest ecological value."
The resulting plan does that, she said, protecting major swamps and two tributaries to the St. Johns River.
The company used Collins' testimony to try to refute assertions by the state regarding the amount of wetlands on the site.
For example, earlier the state presented a witness who testified he was the state's leading expert for interpreting wetlands on aerial maps. But Collins testified that signatures on aerial maps can give false readings and would not be as accurate as the "ground truthing" she has done on the property.
About 29 percent of the area proposed for development is wetlands, she said.
All three scientists testifying Wednesday said proposed wildlife corridors and conservation land are adequate to protect wildlife.
Joe Walsh, a biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the commission thought the proposal would be better for the land than subdividing it into more than 1,500 individual lots as allowed by current rules.
In cross-examination, the attorney for the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, Henry Morgenstern, asked Walsh what assurances the commission has that the property owner will protect wildlife.
"They have promised us they would work with us on wildlife crossings and other solutions to minimize the impact on wildlife," Walsh said.
Morgenstern asked if the agency's decision not to object to the plan was based on the assumption that there would be adequate conservation.
"Yes," Walsh replied, "based on a handshake and a look in the eye."
Walsh testified the commission would ask more specific questions about wildlife protection when the property is submitted for the development of regional impact process that the county's rules require.
The department and its experts say the property provides a critical link between bears in the Ocala National Forest, Volusia County and South Florida.
However, Walsh and Randy Kautz, a former commission biologist who is now a private consultant, testified the state does not have plans for the property to serve as a connector for the bears between those areas.