This is part three of a three-part in-depth report on South Campus. Parts 1 and 2 may be found with the remainder of the News section.
Exceptions in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allow for the University of Miami to fulfill its plans to develop a residential village on its South Campus location, which normally would not be allowed if endangered species are found on the property.
The federal law, passed in 1973, prohibits the destruction of plants on the endangered species list. Two federally endangered plants, the tiny polygala and the deltoid spurge, were found on the South Campus land.
“Few plants are being cared for,” said Mary Doyle, a UM law professor and co-director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. “Now, they will get the attention they need.”
Michael Bean, the senior attorney for Environmental Defense, a non-profit organization that links experts in science, law and economics to evaluate environmental issues, said the act has had an Achilles heel since a 1982 amendment. This modification, he said, exempts private landowners from the ESA if they receive a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS), part of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
To receive a permit for land development, the private landowner has to prepare and submit a habitat conservation plan, also known as an HSP, to the FWS.
Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the School of Architecture, is leading UM’s development plans. She said the university is exercising a “method of smart growth” in terms of implementing a compact and eco-friendly design for the South Campus village.
“So far, the design has gone through a series of county hearings. It still needs to go through one more zoning committee meeting next year when the university is ready to present the Village’s architectural design,” said Sarah Artecona, UM’s assistant vice-president for media and community relations.
UM’s plans have been criticized by Cynthia Guerra, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society, a non-profit organization that lobbies for environmental conservation, and Keith Bradley, the assistant director of the Institution for Regional Conservation. They said they would both prefer that the university preserve the whole property or turn it over to the county for someone else to do so.
Bradley visited the Coral Gables campus in October to speak to members of Earth Alert about the South Campus Village.
“While the development of this area will certainly be detrimental to the environment, I believe that this land is currently in the best hands,” said Lara Polansky, president of Earth Alert. She added that she would rather see the university develop the region than “a profit-driven developer” who may not be as environmentally-conscious.
Bean, of Environmental Defense, suggested that because the FWS needs to receive a feasible habitat conservation plan, private landowners are motivated to work closely with any organization that is environmentally conscious.
Furthermore, the ESA’s safe harbor agreements allow for a land developer to practice conservation while not being liable for any unintended externalities.
“These agreements represent a small but significant breakthrough in designing an endangered species program that makes landowners allies, not adversaries,” Bean said in a report for Environmental Defense entitled “Endangered Species, Endangered Act?”
The university is currently collaborating with Miami-Dade County’s Dept. of Environmental Resources Management, which also has the authority to further the South Campus Village plans. The university has also hired alumna Pamela Krauss, a botanist who has worked in environmental law, to serve as a consultant for the Village.
Doyle said that UM will preserve 43 acres of the South Campus land, which will be overseen by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden employees, as well as by students from the Center.
She also mentioned that the students will work on other environmental projects involving South Campus.
As for the concerns from the Tropical Audubon Society and the Institution for Regional Conservation, Krauss said the university is discussing all the issues and are abiding by federal and state laws.
“We know where the habitat is and the university is protecting them,” she said. “[UM] is moving forward sensitively making accommodations for those concerns.”
Walyce Almeida may be contacted email@example.com.