Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez says no to drilling at Everglades airport despite earnings potential
By Risa Polansky
Despite its revenue potential, drilling for oil at a Miami-Dade County-owned training airport in the Everglades is off the table, Mayor Carlos Alvarez says.
Aviation officials in June pitched selling oil and natural gas drilled from land at the Dade-Collier Training & Transition Airport complex as part of a laundry list of "out of the box" projects that could bring in money for the aviation department.
Officials expect $500 million in added annual aviation debt service and operating costs beginning in 2015.
Commissioners were set Tuesday to consider negotiating agreements that would allow the county to explore and produce oil and gas at the airport, and make money doing it.
Though the county owns the property itself, the Collier family owns about 70% of the mineral rights there.
But Mr. Alvarez at the last minute pulled the item from the agenda indefinitely.
"The item in its current form will not be before the commission. The mayor is opposed to drilling," spokesman Victoria Mallette said via e-mail Tuesday.
But, she said, recognizing the need to generate income for the aviation department, he's willing to consider other possibilities.
A report included in the now-dead legislation also put forth other potential uses for the land, which spans 23,840 acres.
Only 1,000 are used to operate the training airport.
The county last year hired Lampl Herbert Consultants to work with the aviation department to identify and assess revenue-generating prospects there.
nSell airport conservation land, which could yield a $22.8 million one-time payout at $1,000 an acre.
nRestore and enhance land there — and allow third parties to do so — to mitigate the environmental impact of other projects, on or off site.
nSell limestone from quarry lakes, which would both make money and restore the area around five man-made lakes where lime rock was excavated to build the airport runway. The county would make $13 million after spending $9.75 million to mine.
nUse the area for recreation by building facilities such as off-road vehicle trails and camp sites and allowing activities such as non-boat fishing. The county's parks department is exploring the possibilities.
But oil and gas exploration topped the list.
County administrators in the proposed legislation recommended starting with the oil and gas project.
The airport sits in a known oil-prone area adjacent to a field where Exxon has produced oil for 30 years.
Projections show that, assuming an 8% net royalty for all acreage, Miami-Dade could make from $59 million to $224 million for a 20-million barrel field, based on $37 to $140 barrels, the report to commissioners says.
Still, the mayor is anti-drilling.
"The airport does need to find new and creative ways to generate revenue," Ms. Mallette said, "but there are limits."
As far as the other proposals, they "need further vetting," she said. "Until the Mayor is comfortable, there will be [no] item."