MIAMI, Fla. — A proposed water park next to Zoo Miami could be blocked if Miami-Dade commissioners agree with environmental groups who say the project threatens endangered wildlife living in the surrounding forests. The attraction is owned by the county.
Although the vote was scheduled for this Wednesday, the vote has been pushed back to September 19.
The developers are introducing the $47 million Miami Wilds project as a fun addition to the zoo, featuring seven water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool, as well as restaurants and shops on the site, which is currently mostly paved, and free parking for the zoo offers.
Environmental groups oppose the project and associated $13.5 million county grant, saying it will encourage more development on the edge of the pine forest surrounding the zoo.
They argue that the parking lots themselves are important parts of the ecosystem for the endangered Florida crested bats, which feed after sunset.
Consider surrounding areas critical habitat
“The way it’s right now, parking during the day and walking away at night, it’s perfect for all these forest-dwelling species,” said Lauren Jonaitis, senior conservation director for the Tropical Audubon Society, which is leading the Fight Against the Forest project. “But if you put a water park in the middle, the species can’t use it.”
Jonaitis points out that while the water park would be built on land used primarily as a zoo parking lot, there are still scattered clumps of sensitive vegetation on the potential development site outside of the parking lots.
In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the area around Zoo Miami a “critical habitat” for the endangered Miami tiger beetle, part of a nearly 2,000-acre area that requires stricter regulations but doesn’t ban development.
In court documents, district attorneys dismissed the environmental objections to Miami Wilds as a misguided attempt to treat as sensitive a large area that has already been developed, including the entire zoo campus, a nearby facility of the University of Miami and the Miami Museum Gold Coast Railroad.