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Fact-checking the Miami International Boat Show

It’s been almost two weeks since the lucrative Miami International Boat Show kicked off at its new location on Virginia Key after 74 years in Miami-Dade County, most recently at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The move to Virginia Key was controversial, with the Village of Key Biscayne leadership vehemently opposed to hosting the massive event and the City of Miami rushing to get the neglected area ready for the event.

Accusations and denials flew between the Village of Key Biscayne and the boat show organizers before and after the event, touching on everything from local wildlife to revenue kickbacks. A full impact report impact is likely months off, but we tried to parse the truth a bit before the boat show fades from everyone’s minds. Despite pushback from Key Biscayne, the boat show plans to apply to return to Miami Marine Stadium next year.

PRESERVATION: How did the boat show affect efforts to preserve the historic Miami Marine Stadium and Park?

Since 2008, a number of groups have been trying to restore the historic Miami Marine Stadium and Park stadium on Virginia Key, which used to be a site for boat racing, concerts, and even church services. The stadium fell into disrepair after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The City of Miami touted the boat show’s relocation from the Miami Beach Convention Center to the Village of Key Biscayne as an opportunity to spur restoration and preservation efforts, the Miami Herald reports. And it seems that there was some progress towards that goal.

During the boat show, the Dade Heritage Trust partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to petition to save the stadium.

“We had a great booth location right in front of the stadium, and people walked in and were curious, and we had the opportunity to tell them about the history of the stadium,” said Christine Rupp, the executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust. The petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures, she told The New Tropic.

The boat show “will be as supportive as [they] can for the stadium’s renovation because it would be a fantastic part of the boat show moving forward,” said Director Cathy Rick-Joule.

But while the stadium was cleaned up a bit, awareness was raised, and signatures were collected, Village of Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra P. Lindsay is frustrated that none of the revenue will trickle down to the stadium project.

“We should be aware that more than $24 million was spent on that site for a parking lot and infrastructure, and not one penny has gone toward the renovation of the Marine Stadium,” she said. The restoration is expected to cost at least $37 million, the Miami Herald reports.

At this time, the boat show has “no plans to contribute financially,” Rick-Joule said, noting that the City of Miami hasn’t asked. She didn’t rule out the possibility of future contributions, though.

ENVIRONMENT: What impact did the boat show have on local marine life?

Pilings and docks

After a pre-installation analysis of the potential impact, the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory & Economic Resources authorized the temporary installation of 546 dock piles and 497 mooring piles into the Marine Basin, according to Communications Manager Tere Estorino Florin. The boat show ended up installing only between 400 and 500 total, according to boat show Spokesperson Kelly Penton. Lindsay believes that the shade cast by them, as well as the drilling into the ground — which includes coral — irreparably impacted marine life. The impact analysis is pending.

Pollution

Lindsay also voiced concern about pollution. While a water analysis that would reveal the extent of pollution by oil and chemicals from boat traffic (which the City of Miami approved) is not yet available, the mayor acknowledged that her concern about widespread Styrofoam pollution did not bear out.

Manatees

A dead adult male manatee was found in Fisherman’s Channel on the morning of Feb. 12, just as the boat show kicked off. While Lindsay implicated the boat show in the death, the boat show organizers point to the fact that the manatee was found outside their designated area as proof the incident is unrelated.

A necrospy of the manatee indicated cause of death was “acute watercraft trauma,” or collision with a watercraft. Representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it’s impossible to determine whether the manatee’s death was connected to the boat show or an unaffiliated boater. Fish and Wildlife said that the death did not occur in the path of the boat show’s water taxis.

Mortality rates of manatees have varied over the last 5 years, with 16 in 2011, 4 in 2012, 11 in 2013, 13 on 2014, and 17 on 2015. As of Feb. 19, there have been 5 manatee deaths in Miami-Dade County with just one — the one found on Feb. 12 — caused by a watercraft collision.

Mangroves

In late January, City of Miami workers removed some 300 feet of mangroves on Virginia Key without a permit to clear space for a “flex park” – a pavement that could be covered with artificial grass afterward.

It is illegal to cut down mangroves without a permit, as mangroves provide provide critical protection against erosion and hurricanes, as well as shade to native bird and marine life. While mangrove restoration is possible, “it takes a long time for any kind of restoration to get close to approximating an ecosystem that was lost, if ever,” Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein told the Miami Herald when the mangroves were illegally razed.

“[Workers] pulled out an ecosystem that was there, and they also pulled out the first line of defense for beach erosion and hurricane safety,” Lindsay said. “[The boat show] has denied they have any interest in the mangroves. [… ] They allege ignorance.”

Rick-Joule said that a “mitigation plan is in place” and they are working with the county’s department of regulatory and economic resources to replant them.

TRAFFIC: Was traffic appropriately handled during the Miami International Boat Show?

The mayor’s warnings about traffic jams did not pan out. The boat show’s shuttle buses and park-and-ride water taxi system was used heavily by attendees. While the first day of the show was marred by jams, the boat show ramped up the number of water taxis and shuttle buses to resolve delays. Lindsay called it “the best possible thing [the boat show] could have done.”

The boat show says it plans to continue to provide water taxis and shuttle buses in future years.

  • The mangroves that were removed from the racing basin only appeared there after over 20-years of neglect by the city and county. They were never there from day one of the opening of the marine stadium. That area was always clear, a sandy beach to off load and retrieve racing boats. You can see how it was used here: http://bit.ly/1ThyGuY

    • Roshan

      Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that bit of history with us. Even so, mangroves are an incredibly valuable resource for bracing shorelines for hurricane and beach erosion. I wonder what you’d find if you looked 20 years before this picture was taken!

      • Probably the city of Key Biscayne. You’d have to look back over a hundred years to find a primeval island which is what I think you’re looking for. Me, I’m just looking back to when the Marine Stadium was founded. I want to see boat racing returned to the restored iconic structure.

  • The mangroves that were removed from the racing basin only appeared there after over 20-years of neglect by the city and county. They were never there from day one of the opening of the marine stadium. That area was always clear, a sandy beach to off load and retrieve racing boats. You can see how it was used here: http://bit.ly/1ThyGuY

    • Roshan

      Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that bit of history with us. Even so, mangroves are an incredibly valuable resource for bracing shorelines for hurricane and beach erosion. I wonder what you’d find if you looked 20 years before this picture was taken!

      • Probably the city of Key Biscayne. You’d have to look back over a hundred years to find a primeval island which is what I think you’re looking for. Me, I’m just looking back to when the Marine Stadium was founded. I want to see boat racing returned to the restored iconic structure.