Rock-mining at Opa-Locka West awaits environmental impact study, US Army Corp. decision
By Risa Polansky
Miami-Dade County's Aviation Department could have more than half a billion dollars in new revenue in store, but it'll take some time — and some digging.
Officials await a final US Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement on rock mining in the wetlands of western Miami-Dade.
It's up to the corps to allow the county to rock mine a mineral-rich decommissioned airfield at Opa-Locka West Airport.
The venture is expected to net for the county $300 million to $600 million over 20 years, officials say.
Corps officials expect to complete the environmental study by December. No new rock mining permits are to be issued prior, said Leah Oberlin, environmental engineer for the army corps and project manager for the environmental impact statement.
Officials predict favorable results, said Manny Gonzalez, the aviation department's chief of business ventures, in an e-mail.
The corps cannot opine on a potential outcome.
"We cannot be pre-decisional," Ms. Oberlin said.
Currently, there are 11 active permits for mining in the area, she said.
A federal judge last year imposed a ban on rock mining near the Everglades, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in May.
Miami-Dade applied for a permit to mine at the Opa-Locka West site in February, Mr. Gonzalez said.
With permit in hand, the Florida Department of Transportation, which is to manage the project for the county, would then seek a subcontractor on the aviation department's behalf to do the mining, he said.
Commissioners agreed to the partnership late last year.
The state department is to handle permitting and contractor selection, as well as assist in marketing and selling extracted lime rock, according to county documents.
The arrangement is to yield 10 times more revenue than if the county leased the land to a private rock miner, Mr. Gonzalez said.
In that scenario, the county would receive only royalty revenues.
But before the county can count on the money, the corps must decide whether more mining in the area would be environmentally sound.
"We look at the proposed project and alternatives to the proposed project, and we have to lay out what the potential impacts are," Ms. Oberlin said. "We look at things like wetland impacts, wildlife impacts, the effect of seepage from increased lakes" and other factors.
The process also involves seeking public input.
Once the impact statement is released, the public has 30 days to continue to weigh in, Ms. Oberlin said.
From there, the corps is to decide whether to issue more mining permits.