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As the Miami Seaquarium battles Miami-Dade County over an eviction lawsuit concerning the safety and wellbeing of its hundreds of animals, the Seaquarium is pushing back asserting the County has some sort of secret plan to utilize the property. 

Seaquarium Lawyer Hilton Napoleon said something smells “fishy.”

“The County was contacted by people about the land, and that is what this is about, and nothing else,” he said. “It is not about the animals. It is not about the facilities.”

The accusation has spurred discussion on future uses for the Bayside property, and Village Mayor Joe Rasco says the island is watching development carefully.

Napoleon did not elaborate on who made the approach when contacted by the Independent for a clarification, referring questions to a tape of his news conference. 

But the area surrounding the Rickenbacker causeway has drawn the eyes of investors in the past, mostly recently backers of the Plan Z privatization project, which was at one time considered by Mayor Daniella Levine Cava as a way to renovate the area. 

A prominent figure in the Key Biscayne business community says the facility could be turned into a marine research facility. 

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Tatyana Chioccehtti acknowledged that the Seaquarium offered some “good educational” experiences, but she thought a facility more akin to the neighboring University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science would be ideal. 

Her opposition to the Seaquarium formed after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which explored the negative effects of confining orcas in captivity, she said.

“See the film, and you’ll understand,” Chioccehtti said, adding that the captivity is “kinda cruel.” 

Animal treatment is at the core of the County’s eviction, where officials say the operators are in breach of lease terms. 

The Seaquarium rejected claims made in the 324-page lawsuit that was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Tuesday. 

“We’re here to stay,” Napoleon said.

Napoleon denied any breach of federal law by the Seaquarium and said that the County’s accusations regarding the neglect of the animals and grounds are unfounded. The County detailed its reasons by attaching many pages of federal inspection reports. 

If the County prevails in the lawsuit, the fate of the Seaquarium will be determined by a process that also includes public input, said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “The use of the site is heavily restricted,” she said. 

Key Biscayne’s mayor, Joe Rasco, said the site should remain a park, but didn’t elaborate. The Plan Z project allowed the possibility of using public lands for concessions, along with higher Causeway tolls, as part of the construction and operation funding mechanism. 

BIILY JEAN LOUIS is the senior editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. A native of Port Au Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis  has worked for Bloomberg and the Baltimore Sun. He is a corps member of Report for America

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BIILY JEAN LOUIS is the senior editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. A native of Port Au Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis  has worked for Bloomberg and the Baltimore Sun. He is a corps member of Report for...