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Miami commissioner drops controversial proposal to ban planting mangroves in city parks

 The Oleta River is the only river not dredged and stripped of mangroves in Miami-Dade County. Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo had proposed a ban on planting new mangroves at city parks.
Miami Waterkeeper
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The Oleta River is the only river not dredged and stripped of mangroves in Miami-Dade County. Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo had proposed a ban on planting new mangroves at city parks.

Commissioner Joe Carollo had proposed changing city rules to ban planting new mangroves to protect waterfront views.

A Miami city commissioner who proposed banning new mangroves at city parks to protect waterfront views said Tuesday he plans to drop the controversial move.

The proposed ordinance, which would outlaw planting mangroves and tall plants at city parks, spurred swift opposition from environmental and climate advocates. Mangroves are widely seen as one of the best natural barriers to fight erosion driven by rising seas and pollution in coastal waters fouled by stormwater. Their arching prop roots also provide nurseries that help shelter young fish that inhabit offshore reefs.

“Unless we're actively planting many, many more of these, there is not going to be a Miami to come back to,” David Carson, an entrepreneur and environmental scientist, told commissioners Tuesday. “They're like a million strong fingers that are holding the ground in place.”

Carollo proposed the ordinance earlier this month but tabled it at a May 12 meeting, saying the city manager wanted more time to review it. During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Art Noriega announced the commissioner had asked for the ordinance to be indefinitely deferred before Carollo arrived.

Opponents already attending the meeting lined up to speak anyway.

“Voting for this ban would mean regressing [from] what we collectively already know while sacrificing all the ecosystem services the mangrove trees provide simply for a better view of the water,” Erica Jasmin Cartaya said. “That is not a wise tradeoff.”

Carollo said he decided to drop the ban after being satisfied that plans for “living seawalls” that incorporate plants would not impede views. The city is spending more than $13 million to retrofit Jose Marti Park which , was showcased as a model for adapting to sea rise earlier this month during a conference on the status of Biscayne Bay. The park will include mangroves with a floating boardwalk.

 Miami is spending more than $13 million on improvements to Jose Marti Park that include a living shoreline planted with mangroves that will make it more resilient to sea rise.
Curtis + Rogers Design Studio
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Miami is spending more than $13 million on improvements to Jose Marti Park that include a living shoreline planted with mangroves that will make it more resilient to sea rise.

“Basically what my concern was, which is the Miami River, which we don't even know if mangroves can end up growing there,” Carollo said. “My concerns have been taken care of.”

Mangroves historically lined much of Biscayne Bay and Miami River that are now bounded by sea walls. The Oleta River is the county’s only natural river that escaped dredging and remains lined with mangroves. For decades, state law has set strict rules for removing or trimming the trees.

Carollo chided opponents for not considering residents who can’t afford waterfront homes and visit city parks for bay views.

“I just wonder where a lot of the people here were when so many plans were being approved in Miami without putting mangroves in front of them,” he said. “Why were p arks the only places [where] we wanted to block the view? Why are parks the only place [where] we're going to save the planet?”

But advocates say threats from worsening hurricane storm surge in a city that could see a foot of sea rise over the next 30 years now trump views.

“My mom has overcut mangroves before and I've had to plant mangroves on her behalf. So effectively , I know the story… It's taking away my view. I get it,” said Albert Gomez, a former member of the city’s Sea Level Rise Committee. “But the reality is... the state, the federal government have all determined that the value that the mangroves bring versus a seawall far exceeds that justification.”

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Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.