Environmentalists and members of the local community continue to protest the University of Miami’s handling and sale of land containing an endangered pine rockland habitat. They rallied in front of the university’s main entrance on Stanford Drive this Tuesday from 4-7 p.m.
Protesters gathered facing U.S. 1 wearing butterfly wings as a reminder of the endangered and rare Florida Atala butterfly species that lives in the habitat. Other endangered species like the bonneted bat call the habitat home as well. They held signs, some reading “Shame on U” and others with depictions of the U logo holding a bag of money. They chanted “Save it, don’t pave it” to the sound of a trumpet in a continued effort to encourage UM to buy back the land.
UM sold 88 acres of the habitat to Ram Realty Services (Ram) for about $22 million in 2014. Ram plans to develop establishments like a 158,000-square-foot Walmart, a Chili’s restaurant and about 900 apartments on the land.
“I think UM as an institution has a responsibility to sustainability,” said Rebecca Garcia, a UM student who attended the protest. “They sold it. So, they should be responsible for whether or not that will impact the environment.”
The protest was organized by the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition (MPRC), an organization dedicated to preserving the pine rockland habitat.
Al Sunshine, president of the MPRC and a UM alumnus, said the university has made three land deals but it has not sold all the land needed for development yet. He said he hopes to prevent these sales and to encourage UM to buy back land it has already sold.
Sunshine will also hold a meeting with President Julio Frenk to discuss the issue, joined by others involved with opposition to the land sale like Timothy Watson, an associate professor in the English Department who circulated a petition to students and staff opposing the sale that was delivered to former UM President Donna Shalala last year.
Sunshine said he has “no expectations” for this meeting, but “just want[s] Frenk to know our side.”
The university released a statement maintaining that “the University of Miami is committed to the protection and preservation of our community’s natural and historic resources,” and that it “has acted in good faith and in compliance with all rules and regulations in its handling of the South Campus property.” According to the statement, UM also “jointly submitted a Habitat Conservation Plan for review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The MPRC organized a similar protest in the same location last February. According to Cully Waggoner, board member at large for the MPRC, the protest continues this academic year because the group has not yet succeeded in their mission.
“The job’s not done,” Waggoner said. “Until the land is saved, we’ll be out here as many times as we need to be.”