Legal Advocacy


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.


Here are two examples of our recent litigation work:

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. Visit our blog and contact us to learn more.

Pushing for Best Practices in PortMiami’s Deep Dredge Project
The expansion of PortMiami to accommodate larger cargo ships represents one of the most ambitious construction projects in the history of Biscayne Bay. Construction will last approximately 2 years, and 600 days of blasting will be required to deepen the channel. In 2011, MWK and our partners challenged the insufficient environmental mitigations and lack of best practices methods proposed in the initial draft permit that Florida Department of Environmental Protection was planning to issue the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for the project.

After mediation sessions and a settlement agreement, MWK was able to secure improved protections for marine life, expanding the scope of the coral relocation projects, improving monitoring requirements, limiting blasting during spawning and feeding times for protected species, and securing $1.31 million for the Biscayne Bay Trust Fund, which will fund much needed Bay restoration and enhancement projects.

However, we could have done even more with additional resources. Many corals and seagrasses and other marine animals and plants are still being lost during the project, which we believe could have been easily avoided with an improved mitigation plan.

MWK has remained vigilant in an oversight capacity to ensure that the permit is enforced and that the mitigation is being properly carried out. In July 2014, we followed up with a 60 Day Notice to Sue letter for continuing permit violations. We filed suit and requested an emergency injunction in October 2014. As a result, we catalyzed the Army Corps to pay over $400,000 for the rescue of over 200 colonies of threatened staghorn coral.

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.