A long-awaited expansion of Broward County's Port Everglades will finally get started, but not in the usual way with hammers, nails and steel.
The project instead will start this spring with the planting of 70,000 little mangrove plants. By a unanimous vote Tuesday, commissioners agreed to spend $15.7 million on the plantings and hired southwest Broward developer, road builder and trash hauler Ron Bergeron to do it.
Expansion of the seaport, one of Broward's main economic engines, requires destruction of healthy mangroves, and that simple fact has entangled growth plans there in controversy and delay.
In this latest project, dubbed the Southport Turning Notch extension, 8.7 acres of mangroves will be uprooted and destroyed to add 1,500 feet of additional port space — watery parking spots for four or five freighters.
The county had decades ago promised, during a prior port expansion project, to save all the mangroves that now will be destroyed. Instead, the county will replace the destroyed mangroves with about double the acreage of mangroves elsewhere at the port.
The seedlings — 110,000 of them — have been growing in two remote nurseries in preparation for the job, an $810,000 expense, Port Director Steve Cernak said.
"My fingers are crossed. My toes are crossed," Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler said. "Because can the Turning Notch [extension] start until we see the mangrove plantings have been successfully undertaken? My understanding is no.''
Cernak confirmed that, saying destruction of the healthy mangroves to build new ship berths can't begin until the new mangroves are in the ground for a year and determined by the state to be "trending toward success.''
Commissioners also approved Tuesday a $5.5 million contract with DeRose Design Consultants to design the new ship berths, with work on the extension expected to start in 2016 and last for about two years. And commissioners agreed to pay $4.2 million to Liftech Consultants Inc. for consulting work toward the eventual design and purchase of five new mega-cranes at the port, estimated at $15 million each.
The work is all part of the port's larger expansion plans. Broward County is still seeking federal funding to deepen the port to accommodate larger ships expected when the Panama Canal widening is complete in 2015. But the money and federal approvals for that have remained out of grasp.
"We always talk about the negatives,'' said Commissioner Chip LaMarca, mentioning "our inept and incapable government in Washington, D.C. … We have a tendency to talk about what we don't have going on, when here we clearly have a lot of positive things moving in the right direction.''
In other action Tuesday, Broward County commissioners:
•Gave the land use approval needed to allow construction of Franklin Academy, a 43-acre charter school campus proposed on vacant land just south of Griffin Road and east of Southwest 208th Avenue in Pembroke Pines. The project was opposed by Southwest Ranches based on traffic concerns, and was originally recommended for denial by the county. The applicant agreed to build a westbound left-turn lane on Griffin Road at Southwest 195th Terrace.
•Approved the Sheridan Station plat on 40 acres on the south side of Sheridan Street in Hollywood, between Interstate 95 and the CSX railroad tracks. The property is the site of the historic Okomo Coral Rock House, and on "an area of archaeological sensitivity,'' according to county records. Proposed are a hotel, transportation facility, commercial and office space, 550 high-rise residential units and 500 mid-rise residential units;
•Agreed to give the two public hospital taxing districts in Broward a one-time 3 percent increase this year, for a new combined contribution of $13.9 million, to help uninsured patients get private health insurance under the new Obamacare marketplace;
•Approved a plat in Fort Lauderdale, waiving Minto Federal's requirement to build a westbound turn lane on Northeast Fifth Avenue at Sixth Street, for the proposed 416-unit "Henry Square'' residential tower proposed for the southwest corner of Federal Highway and Northeast Sixth Street downtown. Under the "Complete Streets'' concept of building roads to accommodate walkers and bicyclists, the city of Fort Lauderdale argued successfully against the turn lane.
•Appointed Natasha Hampton, human resources director for the city of Miramar, and Lauderhill Commissioner Ken Thurston to the Broward Tourist Development Council.
•Approved a $200,000 security upgrade for North Perry Airport (HWO), including the addition of closed circuit television cameras. The state will pay 80 percent.
•Extended agreements for $700,000 with agencies that help Broward residents living with HIV. Broward recently was notified it would received $4.2 million from the federal government as a metro area "disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.'' The county will find out in the coming 90 days whether it gets the full $10 million federal grant it requested.
•Agreed to spend $210,472 in unexpected funds to offer subsidies to eight low-income home buyers in Broward.
•Agreed to collaborate with CareerSource Broward, formerly Workforce One, to offer summer work experience to economically disadvantaged youth, at no cost to the county.
•Approved an agreement with the South Florida Water Management District to split the costs of a planned $1.6 million two-lane bridge with pedestrian sidewalk at the county's Everglades Holiday Park.
Renewed for one year a county bus advertising contract with Direct Media Inc., increasing the county's minimum return 8 percent, to $765,000.
Set a hearing for March 11 to consider changing the land-use designation on Woodmont Country Club Inc.'s 44-acre golf course south of Southgate Boulevard, between University Drive and Pine Island Road in Tamarac, to allow 152 single-family homes and some commercial development, plus a nine-hole golf course.
Set a hearing for March 11 to consider increasing the residential density allowed on a 183-acre parcel formerly in Palm Beach County, now in Parkland, to allow a 538-home complex for people 55 and older, with the developer contributing $1,150 to the county for each home, to assist in affordable housing efforts.
Set a March 11 public hearing to consider changing the land-use designation on a vacant 8.4 acres on the northwest corner of Northwest 33rd Street and North Andrews Avenue Extension in Pompano Beach, to allow development of a 108-unit residential project.
•Gave a $7 million contract to Layne Christensen Co. to drill two deep-injection wells and a monitoring well for the Floridan Aquifer in Pompano Beach, in the water and wastewater services department.
Delayed the town of Davie's request to change what's allowed to be built on 110 acres on the north side of Southwest 14th Street, between Southwest 148th and 136th avenues, to allow a fire station, field operations center and community center to be built. The site is restricted to 60 single family homes and a 17-acre park.
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