Plans for Wal-Mart and other development in endangered forest alarms environmentalists


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MIAMI — Plans to develop a plot of Miami-Dade forest that's home to rare plants and endangered species is causing alarm among some environmentalists.

The University of Miami sold the 88-acre tract of endangered pine rockland this month to Ram, a Palm Beach County developer planning a 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart for the space, along with an LA Fitness, Chik-fil-A, Chili's and 900 apartments. To gain permission for the deal, Ram agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

But outside the land reserved for preservation, a trove of rare plants has been found in recent weeks, as well as rare butterflies.

"You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement," said Dennis Olle, an attorney who is on the board of the Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association.

About 40 species grow only in pine rocklands, which once ran from Homestead north to the Miami River. The largest remaining stretch of rockland, about 19,000 acres, is in Everglades National Park.

Federal officials say they're closely monitoring the project but are limited in what they can do. Sanctions, for example, can only be issued if endangered animals are killed.

The land was originally part of the Richmond Naval Air Station. It has remained largely undeveloped since UM opened its South Campus in 1946. Over the years, the university floated plans to build offices and apartments, but none ever materialized until 2003, when the school suggested creating an academic village, a plan that ultimately fell through.

UM told the Miami Herald it is committed to protecting the forests and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to other questions about the development.


Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com

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