Federal Judge Denies Injunction; Environmentalists Hope That Decision Is Final Blow For Homestead Airport

Washington (May 9, 2001) - Supporters of a commercial airport proposed for the site of the former Homestead Air Force Base, 25 miles south of Miami and less than 8 miles from Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, were dealt a huge blow today when Judge Paul L. Friedman of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their request for an injunction.

The three environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and the Tropical Audubon Society, that had intervened in the lawsuit consider the opinion a "home run" for such an early point in the legal battle. "The airport isn't quite dead yet, but it's only being kept alive by life support," said Bradford H. Sewell, senior project attorney for NRDC. "It's time for Miami-Dade County to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and abandon the lawsuit, just as the City of Homestead has urged."

"Today's decision is one more victory for common sense. An airport with 600 flights a day over the Everglades was an abomination," said Jonathan Ullman with the Sierra Club. "Now we will need to make sure whatever is developed at Homestead protects the national parks and is consistent with Everglades restoration."

On January 16, 2001, the Air Force issued a "Record of Decision," ruling against the proposed Homestead airport and supporting use of the base property for mixed commercial and residential uses. Although environmentalists had requested a direct transfer to the U.S. Department of Interior for which the federal government would have received mineral rights in exchange for allowing mixed use development of the property, the Air Force rejected that request and ruled that Miami Dade County would be given the property for free, but only for mixed use redevelopment. The City of Homestead has already expressed its support for the mixed use project. Supporters of the airport, including the Homestead Air Base Developers Inc. (HABDI) and Miami-Dade County, filed suit in Washington seeking to reverse the Air Force's decision. The lawsuit included a request for an injunction that would postpone deadlines contained in the Record of Decision while the lawsuit was under consideration. These deadlines related to when the County would need to submit its plans for a mixed-use development.

"The judge completely rejected the County's arguments on the merits," said Paul Schwiep, an attorney for the Sierra Club, NRDC and Tropical Audubon Society. "At every turn, the judge cast doubts on the County's case and therefore denied the injunction. Although the case isn't over yet, the County's claims have been dealt a near fatal blow."

The federal court rejected the plaintiffs' request for such an injunction because they had failed to show a substantial likelihood of prevailing in the litigation. Specifically, the court ruled, the Air Force's decision to reject the airport was "reasoned" and demonstrated that the Air Force had attempted to "balance the goals of economic development and environmental protection." In addition, the County and prospective airport developers failed to make the necessary showing that they would be "irreparably" harmed from proceeding with both the litigation and the mixed use development application process.

Because Miami-Dade County must submit plans to the Air Force on how it intends to construct a mixed-use development at the air base by October 2001, continuing with the lawsuit will place the County in the difficult, albeit not "irreparable," position of fighting the very development it is planning for. For such reasons, in addition to the quite clear pronouncements by the federal court that the lawsuit was a losing proposition, environmentalists hope that the denial of the injunction request and the accompanying opinion will end the airport crusade.

"The County's back is against the wall," said Don Chinquina from the Tropical Audubon Society. "The public and now the court have sent a very strong message. It's time to admit that the idea of an airport in one of America's most treasured locations is dead."

This is a joint release of the following groups: Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Tropical Audubon Society