Deepening Port Miami to make way for bigger ships has caused far more damage to rare coral at the bottom of Biscayne Bay than federal wildlife managers originally calculated.
In a series of letters and emails with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing dredge work, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned between February and June that damage “greatly exceeds” what was anticipated, risking harm to a stretch of reef on the south and north sides of Government Cut up to four times the size originally projected. Yet efforts to get an accurate take on damage have been rebuffed by Corps officials. And Fisheries Service divers hoping to survey the area have repeatedly encountered obstacles, they complained.
The correspondence reveals deep differences between the two federal agencies over impacts of a controversial Deep Dredge project long sought by PortMiami and South Florida political leaders but fought for years by environmentalists. In one count, a Corps contractor concluded that only a handful of coral showed stress — just 2 to 6 percent of the coral checked. But a Fisheries Service count of the same reef showed damage to 67 percent.
On Monday, five months after the agency asked the Corps to provide a complete survey, a Fisheries Service spokeswoman said the agency was still waiting. The Corps did not respond to repeated requests emailed Monday to several people.
Even as work winds down —the underwater excavation is expected to end this summer — tensions continue between agencies and groups monitoring the $205 million expansion which deepen the port to 52 feet by scooping up 6 million cubic yards of bay bottom.