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Discussion on controversial Miami Wilds Water Park next to Zoo Miami deferred until December

Discussion on controversial Miami Wilds Water Park next to Zoo Miami deferred until December
Discussion on controversial Miami Wilds Water Park next to Zoo Miami deferred until December 02:37

MIAMI - A controversial plan to build a water park next to Zoo Miami was brought up and deferred again on Tuesday at the Miami-Dade Commission meeting.

The proposal calls for the development of the Miami Wilds Water Park on the parking lot spaces adjacent to Zoo Miami. Before that, a new lease agreement must be worked out with the developers of Miami Wild.

During a public comment session at a commission meeting earlier this month, the sentiment was largely against the proposal in order to protect the wildlife it would impact.

The discussion on the matter during that meeting was deferred and on Tuesday it was deferred again until December 12th. 

Conservationist Ron Magill is opposed to proposed Miami Wilds Water Park next to Zoo Miami 04:35

Zoo Miami Communications Director, and wildlife advocate, Ron Magill wants the project terminated because he is concerned about endangered wildlife in the protected Pine Rockland ecosystem in the forest bordering the project's location.

"Zoo Miami, critical habitat, Pine Rockland is not the right location," added Magill.

Wildlife in Pine Rockland includes the endangered Florida bonneted bat, the tiger beetle, and dozens of other imperiled species living in protected land.

"All these animals to our general health," emphasized Magill. "When you eliminate one of those links in the chain, the chain breaks. You never know when that can become catastrophic."

The sponsor of the measure, Commissioner Kionne McGhee, has requested more time to sort out legal challenges by the county and federal government against the project, according to CBS News Miami partner The Miami Herald.

Elise Bennett, with Biological Diversity, serves as lead counsel in the federal case against the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Miami-Dade County.

"Park Service completely failed to do these environmental reviews," said Bennett. "The Park Service's job in taking this action to remove those land-use restrictions was to make sure that it's not going to endanger the very existence of these species."

According to the executive summary of the federal case, the National Park Service "admitted most of the allegations and conceded that they did not undertake the reviews required by federal law," in the 2022 amended lease with Miami Wilds.

Paul Lambert, Miami Wilds manager, said he's confident that that the wildlife will be protected."

"We've mitigated [concerns] by shrinking the footprint of the project to just the parking area," he said. "Funding from Miami Wilds will funnel some of that funding into the restoration of the forest, which is in very bad condition today."

Lambert adds Miami Wilds will not destroy existing natural spaces or green space.

Magill said even with the reduced footprint it will still impact the wildlife."What people don't understand is that they are connected. That parking lot area is not just a parking lot, there are tree islands on the parking lot, and it serves as foraging area for the bonneted bat, the most endangered bat in the country, the largest bat in the country, it goes out at night and forages there," he said. 

Magill said the bottom line is that those animals in the Pine Rockland have no other area to move to because there is no suitable habitat around. 

CBS News Miami Chelsea's Jones spoke to Miami Wilds Developers and conservationists about the deferral Tuesday. 

Luca Martinez, a freshman at Florida International University, is committed to preserving the Pine Rocklands. He created a video against the Miami Wilds Water Park development saying it puts Bonneted Bats at risk for extinction because their airspace they use to feed would be eliminated.

"Bat Conservation International, the leading bay researchers of the world did a study and they found that Zoo Miami, that forest, is home to the largest and by far the densest population of Florida Bonneted Bats than anywhere else in the entire species range," said Martinez.

However, Lambert, says they've done a study that says the bats aren't an issue. He said there are only four water slides that would potentially be in the bats' airspace and that lighting wouldn't be an issue because the water park would be largely closed at night.

"We can't see how there's any appreciable impact to the bat and in fact both can co-exist on this property," said Lambert.

He adds Miami-Dade County and Miami Wilds would be dumping money into the preservation of the habitat which would be a net positive for the Pine Rocklands.

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