What we know about Emerald Lakes
FLORIDA TODAY's Rob Landers brings you some of today's top stories on the News in 90 seconds. Rob Landers, FLORIDA TODAY
Newcomers keep the local economy humming, but add to the burden on natural resources — such as fresh water — and the toll on fish and wildlife, as habitat dwindles and pollution and fishing pressure increase.
As the Space Coast's largest city yearned for the jobs newcomers bring, plans for a new Interstate-95 interchange at Micco Road stalled for five decades, leaving Palm Bay and southern Brevard County economically disadvantaged. Tens of thousands of the city's residential "legacy lots" remain undeveloped.
That could soon change.
In one of the largest proposed wetlands impacts on the Space Coast in years, a Tampa developer last month applied for a federal permit to fill almost 102 acres of wetlands to make way for more than 3,700 new homes in southwest Palm Bay.
The public has until Nov. 21 to comment on the developer's permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Scroll down to the bottom of this story to see how to do so.
Gerry Carson says he's seen eagles and scrub jays in the area and is concerned about Emerald Lakes potential impacts on wetlands and wildlife.
"There’s this beautiful cypress hammock," Carson said. "It’s absolutely gorgeous. I can’t believe they are going to develop that. I know we can’t stop the development. I know money talks and they are well organized. I just hope they do use smart planning."
Here's what we know about the potential environmental impacts:
According to the Corps public notice, Emerald Investment Holdings, LLC, based in Tampa, seeks a federal permit to fill 101.69 acres of wetlands to build residential, commercial (office, retail), educational, recreational, and health-related development on both sides of Interstate 95 and north of Willowbrook Drive in Palm Bay.
The 1,573-acre site is bisected by I-95 and borders the St. Johns Heritage Parkway interchange, which is not yet open to traffic.
Emerald Lake's website says the development's 3,760 homes and 2.8 million square feet of office, retail, institutional, medical and research space will support 11,798 jobs annually, 6,572 of them within Brevard County.
When natural surfaces are covered by roofs or pavement, water can't seep into the ground as easily to replenish the drinking- water supply. Instead, it runs off. When the groundwater supply can't meet drinking-water demand, governments may turn to rivers, lakes and other surface waters, but that water is more costly to treat for consumption.
Wetlands are the most important natural filters for the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Johns River. They cleanse waters by removing nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides from agricultural runoff and other sources. They also provide important habitat for wildlife to hide, feed and reproduce.
In exchange for filling in wetlands, developers must protect or improve other wetlands, but sometimes far from the vital fringe wetlands they fill near rivers and lakes, or sometimes across county lines.
To build Emerald Lakes, a Tampa developer plans to fill in almost 102 acres of natural wetlands in southwest Palm Bay, to make way for thousands of homes.
Emerald Investment Holdings seeks a 10-year permit due to the size and complexity of the phased project, according to the Corps' permit application public notice.
Emerald Lakes would affect waters linked with the basins of the Sebastian River-Vero Beach Main Canal and the Melbourne Tillman Canal-St. Johns River. The project would impact 50.38 acres of wetlands on the east side of Emerald Lakes, of 336.54-acres of federal jurisdictional wetlands, and 48.95-acres of the 263.76-acres of federal jurisdictional wetlands on the west side of the property, the Corps notice says.
"These proposed wetland impacts represent an impact of approximately 15 percent of the present wetlands on the east side of Emerald Lakes and an impact of approximately 19 percent of the present wetlands on the west side of Emerald Lakes," the Corps quotes the applicant telling the agency.
Emerald Investment Holdings proposes preserving 85 percent of the wetlands on the east side of Emerald Lakes and 81 percent of the wetlands on the west side of I-95.
"The majority of the proposed wetland impacts are associated with development surrounding the newly developed interchange,” Corps quotes the applicant telling the agency.
To offset the wetland destruction, the applicant proposes to buy 80.798 wetland mitigation bank credits from federally approved mitigation banks in the region, the public notices says. The applicant proposes buying those credits from the Basin 22 Mitigation Bank west of Vero Beach and the Lake Washington Mitigation Bank, southeast of the lake.
Mitigation banks sell credits to destroy wetlands. The "credit" represents the ecological value equivalent to the complete restoration of one acre of wetlands.
Birds, snakes and tortoises
Builders will have to take steps to minimize impacts to threatened Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, Eastern Indigo snakes and any other protected species found on the site. In some projects, scrub jays and gopher tortoises must be trapped and relocated to a conservation area.
According to the Corps notice, the site has more than 25 active and inactive gopher tortoise burrows, holes and refuge areas within the work area where an Eastern indigo snake could be buried or trapped and injured during construction. The federally threatened indigo snakes have been documented within one mile of the south end of the site on the Micco Scrub Sanctuary, the notice says.
The Corps has determined that the project also "may affect the Florida scrub jay and the Eastern indigo snake," and "may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect" the red-cockaded woodpecker and the wood stork.
During the permitting of the interchange, Florida scrub jays were seen within a half mile of the proposed interchange on the west side of the property. So the Corps determined Emerald Lakes "may affect the scrub jay."
The Corps will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the project complies with the Endangered Species Act.
How can I comment?
Although the Corps sometimesextends its 20-day comment period, the public currently has until Nov. 21 to comment on the developer's federal wetlands permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Questions should be directed to John Palmer, in writing at the Cocoa Permits Section, 400 High Point Drive, Suite 600, Cocoa, Florida, 32926, by email at John.Palmer@usace.army.mil, by fax at (321) 504-3803, or by telephone at (321) 504-3771 ext. 10.
They also applied for a stormwater permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District.
On Nov. 6, Emerald Lakes filed for an environmental resource permit application for Emerald Lakes Phase 1 West.
The description says it is a “conceptual project collectively called Emerald Lakes with a Phase I development plan for the properties infrastructure improvements for a portion of Emerald Lakes West including roadways, sidewalks, stormwater connection and treatment infrastructure. It includes minimizing wetland impacts and maximizing preservation including liners, fencing and upland buffers.”
That permitting documents can be viewed on the district's permitting website.