On Tuesday, September 19, a controversial plan to develop a water park near Zoo Miami was again deferred at the Miami-Dade Commission meeting. Concerns about the construction of the Miami Wilds Water Park were originally raised because the proposal calls for the development on parking lot spaces directly adjacent to Zoo Miami. However, before plans can be put into motion, the developers of Miami Wild must work out a new lease agreement.
Earlier this month, public opinion at a commission meeting was mainly opposed to developing the park to protect wildlife. The initial discussion was ultimately deferred, and it was deferred again on Tuesday. The next meeting on the issue is scheduled to take place on December 12.
Wildlife advocate Ron Magill, who serves as the Zoo Miami Communications Director, is adamant about having the project terminated. He is concerned about the endangered wildlife inhabiting the protected Pine Rockland ecosystem in the forest bordering the location. Among the endangered species in Pine Rockland are the tiger beetle, the Florida Bonneted bat, and dozens of other jeopardized creatures.
Magill further pressed his opposition, stating, “When you eliminate one of those links in the chain, the chain breaks,” adding, “You never know when that can become catastrophic.” According to the Miami Herald, Commissioner Kionne McGhee, the measure’s sponsor, requested additional time to sort out legal contests by the county and federal government against the development.
The federal case against Miami-Dade County, the National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is spearheaded by Elise Bennett with Biological Diversity. Bennett states, “The Park Service’s job in taking this action to remove those land-use restrictions was to make sure that it’s not going to endanger the very existence of these species.” She added, “Park Service failed to do these environmental reviews.”
The National Park Service reportedly “admitted most of the allegations” in the 2022 amended lease with Miami Wilds and “conceded that they did not undertake the reviews required by federal law,” according to the executive summary. Miami Wilds manager Paul Lambert said the wildlife will be protected. He reportedly believes that Miami Wilds has mitigated concerns by “shrinking the project’s footprint to just the parking area.” He added that the forest at risk is currently in very poor condition, and the “funding from Miami Wilds will funnel some of that funding into the restoration of the forest.”
Lambert said the water park would not destroy any existing green space or other natural spaces. However, despite the reduced footprint, Magill believes the project will still negatively impact wildlife. Most significantly, he cites concerns over the Florida Bonneted Bat that feeds in the airspace where waterslides would be constructed. Bat Conservation International conducted a study and found that the forest at Zoo Miami is home to the densest population of Florida Bonnet Bats. However, Lambert continues to counter the argument, saying that since the water park would primarily close at night when Bonneted Bats forage, both could coexist and that Miami Wilds would be pouring money into preserving the habitat.