SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - With the fate of the environment surrounding Zoo Miami hanging in the balance, the community finds itself sharply divided over a proposed water park project. As county commissioners prepare for a critical vote just one day away, passionate voices on both sides of the issue have made their opinions heard.

With the upcoming vote set for Wednesday, conservationists are urging the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners to reject a lease extension for the proposed “Miami Wilds,” a water park to be built near Zoo Miami. The zoo sits on 740 acres containing the largest remaining fragment of Pine Rockland habitat outside of Everglades National Park and conservationists want to protect it.

“We as county employees at the zoo have been told we’re forbidden from speaking about this project, from expressing our opinions,” said Ron Magill, animal expert and Communication Director with Zoo Miami. “So I had to take the day off, have you come to my home to speak about this because I am passionate about this? I don’t care if I lose my job over this, I’d rather lose my job than my credibility as a conservationist.”

“There’s not one square inch of Pine Rockland that is being impacted by this project today or any time in the future,” said Paul Lambert, Miami Wilds partner. “Every square inch of this project — of the Miami Wilds project, is being developed in paved parking area.”

While developers are claiming the new park will not impede the wildlife in the area, some fear that it will threaten an already disappearing natural habitat in the area and the endangered species that call it home.

“People say, ‘Oh look, it’s just a parking lot.’ Look at it. There are trees in the parking lot. At night it’s dark where animals in the evening forage, they need that,” emphasized Magill.

The opposing views among conservationists and developers come amidst a legal challenge.

Conversationalists filed a lawsuit, alleging that in last year’s lease between Miami-Dade and the developer, they weren’t in line with the original referendum that was passed by voters in 2006. The vote allowed for development on “Metro Zoo property that is not environmentally sensitive and is outside of the animal attractions.”

“There’s a very good chance that the courts may have a different point of view because it is an environmentally sensitive area or there’s language in there, so we’ll see tomorrow,” said Commissioner JC Bermudez. “I’d like to hear from all sides.”

“There’s always three sides to a story and we’ll see tomorrow what the truth is, but what I can say, is that again, it is concerning that something like this would be proposed in an environmentally sensitive area,” said Commissioner Kevin Cabrera.

Commissioners are set to meet on Wednesday around 9:30 a.m. to discuss further actions for the upcoming project.

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