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History of the South Florida Environmental Study

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Perhaps it was inevitable that Dade County would propose to build the world's largest airport complex. Such a complex would serve the tourist industry, which in 1970 provided nearly 51.1 billion to the economy of the area (Davis, 1972). Businessmen for many years have advocated a policy of expanding tourism that naturally would require enlarging the aviation center serving south Florida.

As an alternative to enlarging the existing aviation center, the Dade County Port Authority began a search for a suitable location for a jet training facility late in 1965. The immediate need to supply a jet training facility, coupled with the outlook for additional traffic, suggested to the business community a need to create a large aviation complex to serve all south Florida. By September 1968, the Port Authority selected a 101-km2 (39-mi2) site in the Big Cypress Swamp shown in figure 1. This site, bounded on the north and west by cypress forest and swamps, was 10 km (6 mi) north of the Everglades National Park and adjoined Conservation Area 3 of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District (FCD). The Port Authority authorized purchase and began construction in September 1968.

At the time of the Port Authority's decision there were at least three strong environmental concerns in south Florida: (1) Protection of Everglades National Park; (2) increased interest in public acquisition of the Big Cypress Swamp; and (3) mounting resistance to uncontrolled urban growth.

The jetport issue soon became a national issue. On February 28, 1969, the FCD called for public debate on a jetport in the Big Cypress Swamp. The U.S. Department of the Interior had strong interests in the region because of its responsibility for federally administered lands, as did the State of Florida for State-administered lands (fig. 2). The Department of the Interior interests had led, several years earlier, to the formation of a work group to informally study environmental problems; this group formulated most of the questions. The consensus of the meeting was 4 that studies would be required to obtain the information needed to answer the questions asked for the Port Authority. On May 19, 1969, in West Palm Beach, the FCD called a second meeting wherein spokesmen for the Department of the Interior stated that the information seemed inadequate to make a judgment on the compatibility of the jetport with the ecology of south Florida. During the early part of 1969, the jetport issue received national coverage in newspapers and magazines and on television. Senator Henry Jackson announced that on June 3 he would convene a session of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to hear testimony on south Florida's water supply, environmental pollution, and jet airport problems of the Everglades. On June 2 the Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, established a select committee to investigate the ecological impact of the jetport and to deliver by August its findings and recommendations. The Federal Government had now committed itself to help resolve the jetport issue.

map of south Florida showing features mentioned in the report map showing Federal and State administered lands in south Florida
FIGURE 1. (left) Map of south Florida showing features mentioned in the report. [larger image] FIGURE 2. (right) Federal- and State-administered lands in south Florida. [larger image]

The select committee's report, known as the "Leopold Report" (Leopold and others, 1969), stated that the proposed jetport would lead to drainage and development of the eastern part of the Big Cypress Swamp, which in turn would cause permanent alteration of the south Florida ecosystem, including the Everglades National Park. The report analyzed the ecology and functioning of the ecosystem and the airport plans for development and found that the proposed development was incompatible with the surrounding ecology. These findings and those from other reports (Freiberger, 1972; Klein, 1972; Klein and others, 1970; Little and others, 1970; Natl. Acad. Sci. Eng., 1970; OVERVIEW, 1969; and Stephens, 1969) meant that the Department of the Interior and probably the Department of Transportation would not approve any further construction of the jetport. This put the Dade County Port Authority in the position of finding a new jetport site.

The Federal Government, however, through the Federal Aviation Agency, acknowledged the urgent need of Dade County for a new and larger airport, and agreed to help in the location and purchase of such an airport. This agreement was called the Everglades Jetport Pact. As part of the pact, the Federal Government allowed the use of the existing Big Cypress jet training facility until an acceptable jetport site could be purchased. In addition, each party to the agreement had certain obligations. Dade County agreed to restrict the size of the existing training facility and to provide for ecologically safe operations. The State of Florida also agreed to assist the county in finding a new site, but would provide little financial assistance for the training facility or for additional service roads. The Federal Government promised to draw up reasonable site-selection criteria for any future site, to monitor the ecological impact of the jet training facility, to provide recommendations for land use in the Big Cypress Swamp, and to undertake an ecological study of the region. When the pact was signed on January 16, 1970, the Department of the Interior assumed responsibility for providing the background ecological information required to answer the questions asked for the Dade County Port Authority a year earlier.

In order to meet the Department of the Interior's obligations in the Everglades Jetport Pact, the Secretary of the Interior ordered on March 9, 1970, the formation of the South Florida Environmental Project. The Director of the National Park Service was designated as the chairman, and the Park Service was chosen to coordinate the project and meet the agreements of the pact. The National Park Service, Geological Survey, Bureau of Sport fisheries and Wildlife (now Fish and Wildlife Service), Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Marine Fisheries Service were asked to contribute services and representatives. These agencies had four main tasks: (1) To establish ecological criteria for any future jetport site; (2) to monitor the environment around the existing jet training facility in the Big Cypress Swamp; (3) to provide a land-use plan for the Big Cypress Swamp; and (4) to organize an ecological study of south Florida. The chronology of the South Florida Environmental Project is shown in figure 3.

The immediate job of the project was to obtain background information on environmental conditions around the existing training facility in the Big Cypress Swamp. The Geological Survey assumed responsibility for monitoring the water quality within the facility while the Environmental Protection Agency monitored water quality in the surrounding area.

The project staff began to draw up jetport site selection criteria. The stated purpose of the criteria was to eliminate conflicts over the selection of a jetport site by providing the Port Authority with ecological guidelines acceptable to the Federal Government. The criteria were sent to the Port Authority on July 16, 1970. Thereafter a site-review team, consisting of five members, one of whom was the coordinator of the South Florida Environmental Project in Miami, was to select potential sites and to judge their suitability on the basis of these criteria. When the review team makes its final selection, the Department of the Interior has agreed to examine in depth the site selected and to decide on its acceptability.

After criteria had been established, the South Florida Environmental Project concentrated on providing a land-use plan for the Big Cypress Swamp. The Department of the Interior released this plan in April 1971, and the South Florida Environmental Project was then free to organize an ecological study of south Florida. Subsequently, Congress passed legislation in 1974 establishing the Big Cypress Swamp as a national preserve, part of the National Park System (P.L. 93-440), thus in effect creating a freshwater reserve for the south Florida region. A total of 230,679 ha (570,000 acres), originally thought to he in about 30,000 ownerships but presently known to constitute 8 closer to 70,000 parcels of land, were to be acquired by the National Park Service over a period of 6 years from passage of the act, using $116 million authorized by Congress and $40 million of donated funds that the State of Florida had previously appropriated for this project.

For the ecological study of south Florida, it was decided early in 1971 that each participating agency would submit a plan for studies that fell within each agency's expertise. Studies that could not be done by available agency personnel would be contracted to non-Federal individuals and groups. At the end of 3 years, reports on 51 studies were completed.

The individual studies were originally designed to answer many questions about the ecology of south Florida that had been asked early in the jetport controversy. Since the beginning of the project, however, new questions have been posed. To provide some of the answers to new questions, the project was extended to include a second phase, a definition of "the system of man and nature in south Florida" (fig. 3). Phase two is based on Study No. 1 of the 51 separate studies that constituted phase one. It involves the identification and "tracking" of all energy inputs, storages, and flows in the south Florida ecosystems, now so inextricable a mix of natural and human-imported energies. It is a combination of field research, storage and flow models, and computerized projections of possible futures based on different sets of conditions that could affect the existing system of man and nature in south Florida. The analysis is to be done at three levels: regional, county, and natural ecosystems.

illustration showing chronology of the South Florida Environmental Project
FIGURE 3. Chronology of the South Florida Environmental Project. [larger image]

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