Miami Wilds would be bad for families and wildlife. Commission should hit the brakes | Opinion

On Sept. 6, Miami-Dade County commissioners will vote on one of the worst projects they have considered in years. The Miami Wilds waterpark project is a taxpayer boondoggle that is as environmentally destructive as it is bad for Miami families — with a taxpayer price tag so high you would think it was a waterslide made of gold.

Bat Conservation International asks the commission to stand up against this deeply flawed project — and we are asking taxpayers to call their commissioners ahead of this critical vote to encourage them to not to rubber stamp something not in the interests of local residents and their families.

The Miami Wilds water park would be built in endangered species’ habitat next door to Zoo Miami. Millions in taxpayers dollars would subsidize a project that makes it more expensive to visit the zoo and jeopardizes one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Miami-Dade County.

Bat Conservation International (BCI) has been working with our Miami-based staff and local partners for nearly 20 years to save the rarest and most endangered bat in the United States — the Florida bonneted bat — from extinction. We have been researching this bat and working to protect it on the exact site proposed for development.

Every parent who cares about the look on their child’s face and the sense of wonder they experience when they see wild animals at the zoo, should be worried about Miami Wilds, which plans to charge visitors for parking at the water park and at the zoo. Parking fees will start at $9 a vehicle and increase “as needed” for Miami Wilds to meet its bottom line.

Even if you don’t have kids who love the zoo, every taxpayer in Miami-Dade County is getting soaked by this project. To make the economics work at this location, the county gave this developer $13.5 million of taxpayer money to bolster a development that has been flimsy from the start.

Zoo Miami is a biodiversity hotspot, hosting overlapping critical habitats for several federally endangered species and the largest fragment of pine rockland outside of Everglades National Park. Because the project’s location is an active study site for the Florida bonneted bat, we know conclusively that the area is not only currently occupied by the bats but is heavily used when the bats need to find food. The land proposed for development is a large, dark, open space, which is exactly what the night-flying Florida bonneted bats need to survive.

In the proposed location, the Miami Wilds offers inadequate financial return for the county, jeopardizes Miami’s unique natural environment and increases recreational costs to families visiting the zoo.

There must be a better way.

I am confident we can identify another location for Miami Wilds that can generate a higher return on investment without irreversible environmental impacts or increased costs for families.

I’m counting on county commissioners to put the brakes on this misguided project.

And the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County have an opportunity to stand up for Miami’s environment, economy and families by voicing their opinion before to the County Commission’s Sept. 6 meeting. Tell commissioners to put the brakes on Miami Wilds.

Michael Daulton is the executive director of Bat Conservation International.