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Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, seen here in 2016.

Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, seen here in 2016. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)

Miami-Dade’s plans to bring civil aviation to the Homestead Air Reserve Base may be on the way to being grounded by Congress.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime opponent to the idea of expanding private access to the base, also has picked up support from a key Miami Republican colleague — U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, who as mayor of Miami-Dade County had supported opening the base to private planes.

Gimenez appears to have changed his mind on the proposal, sponsoring legislation in the house that mirrors language from Rubio and Florida Sen. Rick Scott that would outlaw private air traffic at the base.

The $839 billion National Defense spending bill that passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support this week included a provision banning civilian air operations at the base, starting in 2026. The same language is in the senate’s draft version, which hasn’t yet passed.

Rubio pledged to keep that language in the Senate bill.

“We should never put corporate special interests before Everglades restoration or our military readiness. I appreciate the committee and Senator Scott for working with me to include this critical provision in the Senate’s FY23 NDAA, and I will push to ensure that it becomes law,” Rubio said in a statement.

Environmentalists have fought against civilian operations at the base for decades, including a memorable magazine ad published in 2000 by the Sierra Club. Rubio has also been a vocal opponent of the plan, saying it threatens the multi-billion dollar federal investment in Everglades Restoration.

The latest attempt to add private aviation to the base when Miami-Dade, with Gimenez as mayor, began negotiating with the Air Force in 2014. That push lasted for years, and in October 2020, Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously agreed to move forward with opening up the base to civilian aircraft, with an exception for cargo planes.

Now, in a press release about the bill, Gimenez said preserving military use of the base is “critical to protecting our national security interests.”

Anti-expansion activists have also linked the push for private air traffic to the proposed logistics center to the north of the base, which, if approved, would be the largest expansion of the county’s urban development boundary in history.

Rubio, who is up for re-election this year, co-wrote an op-ed with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava arguing that the project would harm Everglades restoration efforts.

Since the 2020 move, Miami-Dade’s commission hasn’t discussed the topic of expanding the base for private use. In a May memo, Commissioner Raquel Regalado asked Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to put the issue “to bed” instead of allowing it to “fester.”

Levine Cava, who originally proposed the amendment limiting cargo flights at the base, said the county supports the key military operations of the Homestead Air Reserve Base.

“As Mayor, I have been proud to support the defense capability and diversity of roles played by HARB, and as an elected leader I’ve worked to ensure we make smart decisions about development that could interfere with the base,” she said in a statement.

©2022 Miami Herald.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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