After another year of the successful South Florida boat exhibit, its relocation created tensions between city leaders and environmentalists.
By Irene More
Over the President’s Day Weekend more than 100,000 visitors to the Miami International Boat Show checked out 1,500 boats and visited exhibits showcasing marine accessories, electronics, engines, nautical gifts, and apparel. The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) said that attendance was up four percent over last year, and called the show “a resounding success.”
After 74 years in Miami Beach, this year the boat show moved to a new home, the historic Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin and Park on Virginia Key. This marked the first event held at the historic location since it was shut down in 1992 after damages from Hurricane Andrew. NMMA president Thom Dammrich said, “This year’s show was the start of what we hope to be a long successful run at Marine Stadium Park and Basin.”
Environmentalists have voiced their concern about the move. After the closing of the stadium and park in 1992, red and black mangrove trees grew along the shoreline in the area adjacent to the stadium that had previously been used for loading and unloading racing boats. Over the past 23 years, the mangrove roots spread and became a haven for small fish and crustaceans, providing food and shelter, and the branches provided homes for several bird species as well, making the area an ecologically sensitive habitat.
Last May, City of Miami workers illegally removed more than 300 linear feet of the mangroves along the shoreline without a permit. In an El Nuevo Herald article by Pedro Portal, “Mangroves at Miami’s Marine Stadium Get the Chop,” he argues, “John Ricisak, supervisor of Miami-Dade County’s Department for coastland and wetland resources, visited the site at the end of May (2015) and found 330 feet of shoreline cut back…A city of Miami project manager told Ricisak the city had obtained a city tree permit, but those permits only cover upland trees.”
A city contractor had chopped down the mangroves to make space for docks to accommodate many of the 1,500 or so boats expected at the show, and to clear space for a “flex park” to provide the show’s exhibition tents. City Manager Daniel Alfonso said to El Nuevo Herald, “I did hear that we cut down some mangroves. If we screwed something up, we’d try to make it right.” Boat show Director Cathy Rick-Joule said, “a mitigation plan is in place,” and that work is being done by the county’s department of regulatory and economic resources to replant the mangroves.
What about the outcome of efforts to preserve the historic Miami Marine Stadium? As the boat show made its debut in its new home, the iconic stadium remains as it has been for over two decades: in a state of disrepair, a target for vandals and graffiti artists. The city-owned stadium’s restoration was a motivating factor the boat show’s relocation from the Miami Beach Convention Center to Virginia Key. It was seen as an opportunity to call attention to restoration and preservation efforts.
During the boat show, the Dade Heritage Trust partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a petition to save the stadium signed by 3,000 attendees. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado supports an ordinance to dedicate all revenue generated from the use of the flex park to the stadium. Funding for the job is expected to cost at least $37 million.
Miami commissioners will be doing a follow-up to review the results of the boat show, and county regulators will consider an environmental permit. A full impact report is pending on any damage to marine life by piles and moorings, and a water analysis to determine the extent of pollution from oil and chemicals from the additional boat traffic. The full report is most likely several months away. A final decision about the boat show’s return to Virginia Key won’t be made available for several months. ■
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