Florida Cabinet lifts legal ruling that prohibited Miami-Dade from constructing a major highway through the Everglades

American Alligator swimming in the Everglades – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Mark_Kostich

A highway may soon be erected across Florida’s most recognizable national park after Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the Florida Cabinet lifted a rule protecting the Everglades’ wetlands from being touched.

On Tuesday, Florida legislators lifted a legal ruling that previously blocked Miami-Dade County’s big plan of constructing a major highway across the Everglades.

The rejection of the legal ruling will not immediately pave a direct route for the county to add a planned 14-mile stretch to State Road 836, but it certainly lifts a massive roadblock that was there before.

“It’s not like this is going to happen. I mean, they’ve got to go through all those environmental reviews,” Gov. DeSantis said as he backed his decision. “… If some of the things that are happening that are positive do happen, I don’t think it’s going to get permitted by the South Florida Water Management District. I just wasn’t convinced that this all needed to happen on the front end.”

The planned Kendall Parkway would add the aforementioned 14-mile stretch across Everglades wetlands, a solution that has long been touted to ease western suburbs in the county of massive traffic jams.

However, the decision to lift the legal ruling caused quite an uproar from groups that opposed the county’s plans in the first place.

“It’s really disappointing that the governor and the Cabinet have voted like that, contradicting all their Everglades leadership,” said Paola Ferreira, executive director at Tropical Audubon. 

Other advocates against the highway plans pegged the governor and the Cabinet for lifting the rule because of their past efforts to preserve the “River of Grass” and other environmental safe-havens.

By constructing an extension through the Everglades, vital processes such as the filtration and purification that the national park’s wetlands facilitate will be severely damaged, as well as opening the possibility for more suburban expansion.

Of the four members who took part in the meeting as the state Board of Administration, only Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has decided to challenge Gov. DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial race, voted to uphold the administrative court ruling.

Advocates against the rule lift also believe the proposed highway would displace 300-400 acres of farmland, a move that would negatively affect the county’s declining agricultural reserves. 

“Any way you slice it, there’s no way you can justify running a highway through these wetlands where your water management district and DEP are still struggling to undo the damage of prior highways, ” said attorney Richard Grosso who’s representing Tropical Audubon Society and West Kendall resident Michelle Garcia in the legal action. “The idea that we would actually run a new highway through the very Everglades wetlands we’re trying to restore here in 2021 is really kind of an amazing concept.”

Those in favor of the decision are contesting that the portion of land in which a potential highway would be built in the first place is not even considered a part of Everglades National Park. 

“They keep saying this is in the Everglades; it’s not in the Everglades. This is miles away from Everglades National Park,” Dennis Kerbel, county attorney defending Miami-Dade in the legal challenge, said. “It does run through wetlands that have been identified as part of the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan … and this commission doesn’t have to decide exactly this, but the comments that we received from the Water Management District are that the CERP project for the area is going to be done via a conveyance canal.”

Gov. DeSantis assured the project was far from a certainty, and to believe it would be done immediately would be “premature.”

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