Law clinics improve community life, serve as teaching tool, Pt. 1

Environmental Law Clinic

Stephanie Nuñez began working with the Environmental Law Clinic in Fall 2011. “I hadn’t really considered environmental law before, but I discovered I really like it. I’d love to do it as part of my pro bono work.”

Nuñez was among the students who assisted clinic director Jim Porter in securing an additional $2.3 million for the mitigation package proposed by Miami-Dade County and the state and federal agencies working in Port of Miami’s “Deep Dredge” project.

Deep Dredge will see some 600 million cubic yards dredged from the seabed in Biscayne Bay in the next two years. The port then should be able to accommodate new super-sized cargo ships that will be coming through the expanded Panama Canal in 2014. The dredge will impact the bay’s seagrass and coral reefs.

The Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, the Tropical Audubon Society, and environmentalist Dan Kipnis joined efforts to safeguard Biscayne Bay’s ecosystem and brought the case to the Environmental Law Clinic. The petitioners originally wanted Deep Dredge stopped, Porter says. Ultimately, the law clinic was able to reach a settlement in May through mediation.

The settlement provides for 16.6 acres of new seagrass and reefs to be added for mitigation, and the relocation of small corals to a new artificial reef or to those unaffected by the dredge. Funds also will go to the restoration of coastal dunes on Virginia Key and two mangrove and wetlands projects at Oleta River State Park.

“FIU Law students were instrumental in strategizing and following leads that we didn’t always have time to,” said Alexis Segal, the executive director of the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “The deck was stacked against us not winning, so we’re grateful to have gotten us the best outcome possible by settling.”