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Group Puts Pressure On UM Over Sale Of Rare Dade Forest

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- A growing group of protesters were outside the University of Miami (UM) Friday holding signs in hopes, what they say is a priceless piece of land, is preserved for future generations.

Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition staged  the rally to put pressure and "shame the U" into buying back the property that is considered  one of the world's rarest forests, has endangered pine rockland and about 200 species.

"We can't afford to lose any more habitats," said Steven Leidner with the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition. "We think this habitat needs to be protected, not developed."

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The Tropical Audobon Society said the federal government gave UM the land 30 years ago for the university to enlarge its education and research program but this past summer, the land was sold to a private developer for 22 millions dollars to build a Walmart Strip Mall.

"The developer wants to put a Walmart, a Chipotle, an LA Fitness and an apartment complex and that's going to destroy this Pine Rockland," said Celeste De Palma with the Tropical Audobon Society.

"It's obscene to me that they'd destroy it to build something that every city in America has a Walmart of all things.  It's madness," said Protester Zachariah Cosner.

The University of Miami said it's acted in good faith and compliance and issued a statement saying, "An extensive and cooperative effort was undertaken, and then DERM (the department of environmental resources management) made its determination about which areas needed to be preserved in perpetuity.  Without DERM's approval and recommendation, the Planning and Zoning approvals would never have occurred at the state or county levels." 

Although the developer has agreed to set aside half of the property for a preserve, protesters said the land would not be able to get properly taken care with the new construction and foot traffic it would bring.

The coalition's first rally in January attracted hundreds of people calling for the preservation of the 88-acre Pine Rocklands.

In July 2014, federal officials warned the developer to stop planning construction of the mixed use development until a survey is done of the endangered wildlife on the property.

Craig W. Aubrey, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the paper, the group should first obtain a federal permit before moving on with any work which could possibly threaten the protected species on the land.

The developer,Ram Realty Services'  Chairman Peter Cummings said back then he would review the recommendation and planned to meet wildlife officials.

Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz also said he is dedicated to preservation.

A second rally is set to be be held at the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting on March 3rd.


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