MIAMI Aug 19 A Florida real estate developer is
putting on hold plans to build a Walmart store and
hundreds of apartments after federal officials last week moved
to protect two species of endangered butterflies on the proposed
site, a rare tract of forest brimming with wildlife.
"The last thing these butterflies need is another strip mall
smack in the middle of some of their most important habitat,"
said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney for the Center for
Biological Diversity, a national conservation group.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week added two
butterfly species to its endangered species list, and designated
11,000 acres of pine rockland forest in seven separate parcels
as critical habitat, which includes the site of the proposed
The designation has posed a challenge for Boca Raton-based
Ram Realty Services, which closed on the $22.1 million, 88-acre
tract in early July with plans to build a Walmart, a gym and 408
apartments in a southwestern suburb of Miami.
Ram said it will set aside 43 acres for a nature preserve
and will survey the land to determine how best to comply with
the designation, which goes into effect Sept. 11.
"We have committed to refrain from any on-site work, other
than hand removal of invasive species, until the issues raised
by Fish & Wildlife have been resolved," Ram Chairman Peter
Cummings said in an emailed statement.
Local conservationists have already launched a petition that
has garnered more than 78,000 signatures calling on federal
wildlife officials to stop the project, noting that Walmart, the
world's largest retailer, already has several Miami-area stores.
Once the listing of the butterflies becomes formal next
month, environmentalists will have more weapons to use, "if not
against the developer then Miami-Dade County for illegally
permitting things which could result in the harm of endangered
species," said Dennis Olle, a Miami attorney and board member of
the Tropical Audubon Society.
Lopez said Ram could be required under the Endangered
Species Act to seek a federal permit to mitigate any potential
harm to the butterflies, a process which is subject to public
comment. "We are prepared to engage in this process moving
forward," she said.
Walmart said in a statement it expected Ram would cooperate
with regulators to protect "a rich and unique nature
preserve for generations."
The University of Miami has been criticized for selling the
land to Ram after being responsible for it since the 1940s, when
the federal government divvied up a decommissioned naval base.
The land was deeded to the university for free in 1981 with
a 30-year requirement to use it for educational purposes and to
"The university has always been committed to the protection
and preservation of our community's natural and historic
resources," spokeswoman Margot Winick said.
Olle criticized the university for what he described as
neglect of the rare forest during its 33-year ownership.
"Shame on UM. Big piles of shame," he said.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by David Adams
and Leslie Adler)