Legal Advocacy

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Photo: C. Mier

“Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water – whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger – must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction…..”

–Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) (Douglas, J., dissenting)

MWK is one of the few environmental organizations in Miami who are willing to use one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to protect our Bay: the law. Using State and Federal laws, MWK – along with support from the community – can stand up to any person or organization, not matter how big, powerful, or well-funded, who might seek to harm our Bay or its surrounding waters.

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Here are two examples of our recent litigation work:

Protecting Florida’s Reefs from the Impacts of Dredging
In a race to expand U.S. ports to accommodate larger, next-generation shipping vessels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is targeting ports along the eastern seaboard for expansion and dredging. The Port of Miami was first on the list, where the shipping channel bisects a once-thriving coral reef and threatened staghorn corals and their critical habitat. Since construction began in November 2013, our reefs have been smothered by sediment from the dredging. Despite mounting recorded violations, the Army Corps failed to stop the impacts or its contractors, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, accountable for the damage.

In response, MWK, along with three other co-plaintiffs, filed a citizen suit in October 2014 to enforce legally-mandated protections for these imperiled corals and their habitat through the Endangered Species Act. We have already catalyzed the Army Corps to pay over $400,000 for the rescue of over 200 colonies of threatened staghorn coral to coral nursery at University of Miami.The dredging of the Port of Miami was completed in August 2015. Staghorn corals rescued in October 2014 as a result of our legal action are now being returned to the reef to grow and thrive in safety. Despite our successes, thousands of corals remain in the impacted area, and the damage resulting from the violations have still not been fixed. We are continuing our advocacy in both the legal and scientific realms to achieve proper restoration for Miami’s damaged reefs. Furthermore, the Army Corps recently approved Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, 30 miles north and bisecting the Florida reef tract, for dredging. We are expanding our efforts to organize Port Everglades’ community to prevent the damage we have seen in Miami from occurring again.

Our Legal Team

We are honored to be represented by a team of dedicated attorneys who are committed to using their legal skills and acumen to fight for protection of our natural resources. They have given an incredible amount of passion and time to representing us and our environment, and we simply could not do this type of effective advocacy without their commitment to service. We are exceptionally grateful.

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James M. Porter, James M. Porter P.A.
Paul J. Schwiep, Coffey Burlington P.L.
Eric Glitzenstein, Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks L.L.P.
Gary M. Pappas, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt
John A. Camp, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt

Here is some coverage of our work in the New York Times and National Geographic.

This is still an ongoing issue for MWK, and please check our blog for updates and contact us for more information.

Improving Degraded and High Flood Risk Sewage Infrastructure in Miami
One of the biggest threats to our clean water is an epidemic of sewage system leaks and spills.The Miami-Dade sewage system has spilled tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways in recent years. In 2012, MWK filed a 60-day notice to sue Miami-Dade County over these Clean Water Act violations. The EPA took notice and filed their own suit against the County, resulting in a multi-billion dollar proposed infrastructure plan. However, MWK challenged the plan as being inadequate because it did not take sea level rise into account, and continued to utilize a highly vulnerable sewage treatment plant located on an island in the middle of Biscayne Bay. (Thirteen days after MWK filed notice to sue, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, causing 10 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to flood waterways.) The proposed plan also did not ensure adequate funding for the Water and Sewer Department to prevent further spills.

Since MWK’s intervention, the County has formed a Flood Task Force to deal with flooding issues and has incorporated many of MWK’s requests into their plan. We are continuing to work on this issue by ensuring that there are proper permits for the partially treated sewage ocean outfall, which discharges off the coast of Miami. The outfall has not had an active permit issued in over 10 years.

Miami is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and MWK wants to ensure that our continued growth is sustainable, improves the quality of life for our citizens, and protects our natural resources. We should be utilizing best management practices and up-to-date science to protect our city from sea level rise. Natural “green” infrastructure, such as corals, seagrass, and mangroves, can also reduce flooding and storm surge. MWK therefore also fights for protections for these barriers, as well as restoration projects that recover our lost natural barriers. (See also PortMiami Deep Dredge legal advocacy.)

Miami deserves sewage-free bay that is ready for the challenges of the future. Help us fight for one. Contact us to learn more.