Maria Serrano/Staff Writer
Video by Michelle Marchante
FIU contends that the Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve can be used as an additional exit road for students at the Biscayne Bay Campus if a shooting like Parkland were to happen. Current entrance and exit is accessible only on one road– Northeast 151st Street.
Cory Waldman, the president of the Arch Creek East Preserve Action group’s Facebook page, however is against the road construction.
“FIU did a politically dirty play– that midnight FIU bypassed the city of North Miami. They do what they want. North Miami is exploring legal options to fight this amendment passed by FIU sponsored by the Florida legislature,” said Waldman.
If you take a drive down 135th Street, you’ll see that it’s a strictly residential walk, according to Waldman.
North Miami city councilman Scott Galvin, who represents the FIU North Campus area as well, has also been strictly opposed to the bill.
Galvin mentioned that when North Miami realized this land was theirs– instead of selling the 13-acres of land to the first developer they could find– they restored it little by little over the years.
Even though North Miami has designated this area near the road as Arch Creek Nature Preserve, it is not a state or federally protected environmental area.
For him, this preserve is also a residential zone.
Although there’s no plant or animal extinction that could occur if the vehicle road was re-opened through the preserve, there are other potential environmental consequences that could trigger when building one way roads each way, curbs and sidewalks, according to Galvin.
“You’d have to tear up somebody’s mangroves—whether state mangroves or our mangroves, so you’d obviously impact the environment in that way,” said Galvin.
This would not only destroy what North Miami has worked so hard to restore over the years, according to Galvin, but it would also devalue the property of thousands of residents who live on 135th street, since it will no longer be a quiet residential zone.
Galvin also highlights that there are other potential ingress and egress routes beyond NE 135th Street.
These alternatives, he said, include improvements to NE 151st Street; Bay Vista Boulevard/NE 135th Street; NE 143rd Street and NE 163rd Street (Oleta River State Park).
There is also an unused parking lot east of the campus in Haulover. This alternative allows students to park and possibly take ferry boats to campus during weekdays.
“I suggested to the FIU administration that they use boat ferries. Why does everybody have to come to the campus in a car? They can park there and ferry boat into the campus. You take buses from the north campus to the south campus–you should take a ferry,” said Galvin.
However, Pablo Chillida, a senior majoring in journalism, argues that ferry boats may not be a good option.
“Although taking the ferry would be nice for sightseeing, I know it won’t be effective to get to class on time and it will cost FIU thousands of dollars,” said Chillida.
This measure in house bill 215 that FIU got amended, according to Galvin, didn’t follow regular procedure. There was no bill sponsor, no committee hearing and no debate on the floor.
FIU however, says that language relating to the access road was heard in the Senate’s appropriations committee, was heard in the Senate and the House and was debated on the House and Senate floors at least six times.
The language in question can be found in section 10, 334.352 (lines 248-260), where it states that local government entities cannot prohibit motor vehicle use on existing roads, if and only if, one or two routes of egress or ingress exist at a state university. The only exceptions would be for road maintenance, road repair or if law enforcement needs to stop traffic in an emergency situation.
Under this language, FIU would be allowed to reopen the road.
But, this wasn’t the right way, according to Galvin.
“FIU has done this for the second time now. There are many options that FIU is aware of and instead of dealing with the community in good faith they prefer to sneak legislation through Tallahassee at the 11th hour,” said Galvin.
However, FIU President Mark. B. Rosenberg and FIU’s Board of Trustees argue that safety is their only priority, which is why reopening a second access road is necessary, particularly due to the recent emergencies in schools that have endangered safety for students.
“An additional access road could improve response and rescue efforts during emergencies such as a fire, bomb threat, or active shooter event by providing secondary access into and out of the campuses,” read the statement FIU sent to Student Media.
However, Galvin warns that every city in Dade County and in the state of Florida should be afraid because now a university could take whatever they want by crafting special language.
Rosenberg, Galvin said, is stepping on the residents and the environment of North Miami, and city hall itself.
“It’s time for FIU to take a breathe, slow down and engage the community in conversation. This is just way underhanded– it’s beneath the dignity of Florida International University– I’m an alum and this is not the university I attended– this is not the way the university that’s a good neighbor would behave,” ended Galvin.
Whether Governor Rick Scott vetoes the bill or not– if he signs it and it become law the city will go to court with the university and eventually a judge will decide who has authority over the area.
“We’ll go to court because this is unprecedented. FIU has slipped language into a bill that would theoretically give them authority over our city land,” said Galvin. “This preserve is North Miami land, not state land, not FIU land. It is our land!”
UPDATE: Originally published on Thursday, April 5, this article was updated on Friday, April 6, with additional responses from FIU.
Feature Image by Maria Serrano/PantherNOW