Miami seeks cash to clean, deepen two polluted river tributaries
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The City of Miami is searching high and low for nearly $19 million to dredge two of the most polluted waterways in the state that, if not cleaned up soon, could start leaking hazardous materials into the Miami River.
An Oct. 16, 2009, letter from Wilbur Mayorga of the county's Department of Environmental Resource Management to then City of Miami Manager Pedro Hernandez approves a cleanup program for Wagner Creek and the Seybold Canal.
Both were found to contain dangerous amount of dioxins — a byproduct of industrial processes that's hazardous to humans and food chains — deep in the riverbeds, making dredging a necessity.
The county approved the plan to dredge the canals, but due to the high concentration of pollutants, dredged sediment must be trucked out of state to a landfill equipped to handle the materials, pushing the cost higher.
The canals in recent years have also become shallow, threatening the future of businesses operating along their shores.
"Due to the extremely shallow depth of the Seybold Canal, larger recreational vessels are only able to access Campeones Recreational Boatyard by high tide," said owner Mario Hernandez. "In addition, our employees have to take extra time out to wash contaminants off the vessels prior to working on them."
Once the boats have been washed, he added, workers wait at least 24 hours before touching them.
So far the City of Miami has spent about $960,000 engineering the project and nearly has all of the permits in hand.
"Now that the permits are substantially complete, the City of Miami is actively seeking cost shares from Miami-Dade County, Congress, the State of Florida, the Florida Inland Navigational District and the South Florida Water Management District to secure the remaining $18.65 million needed to conduct this long-awaited project," Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado wrote in an e-mail, "which will also significantly improve the economy and restore unimpeded navigation to these tributaries' recreational boatyards and commercial fishing businesses."
Yet when the funds will come through and dredging will begin remains unclear.
The initial letter from the county to Mr. Hernandez on the issue, sent Oct. 16, 2009, mandates that dredging begin 120 days from that date.
A follow-up letter, dated Jan. 26, from Mr. Hernandez to Mr. Mayorga of the county's environmental resource management department said the city was to begin execution within six months. That deadline passed mid summer.
"We are advocating in support of the city's requests to secure five additional cost share partners to conduct the project," Miami River Commission Chairman Eric Buermann wrote in an e-mail.
In preparation for the possibility of piecemeal funding, the contracting for the dredging of the two canals may be structured like the dredging for the Miami River, which concluded in 2008.
That contract split the river into several pieces to allow for work to continue as funding trickled in. The contract also allowed for temporary stops in the work, though pausing and restarting the project could drag out the time and cost of the dredging.