Dredging of polluted Miami river tributaries flows on stream of funding, US permit
By Zachary S. Fagenson
As the City of Miami aggressively seeks out $20 million needed to dredge Wagner Creek and Seybold Canal, two heavily polluted Miami River tributaries, many of the project's details remain elusive.
Where the funding will come from is still not set in stone. At the same time the city is awaiting a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Alice Bravo, director of the Department of Capital Improvements.
The city is to apply for $1 million from the South Florida Water Management District, $1 million from the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) and close to $8 million from the state's Department of Environmental Protection, according to Kirk Menendez, city director of intergovernmental affairs.
Both waterways were found to contain dangerous amount of dioxins — byproducts of industrial processes that are hazardous to humans and food chains — deep in the riverbeds, making dredging a necessity.
The sediment is so toxic that it has to be carted to a special out-of-state landfill equipped to handle the mess, driving the costs up to $20 million.
So far the city has spent about $960,000 engineering.
The city and Miami-Dade County have been in discussion over the waterways' pollution and how to clean them up since late 2009.
The remaining about $10 million, the city hopes, will be funded by the federal government through the Water Resources Development Act, but Congress would first have to actually pass the bill. The last time it did so was in 2007.
Meanwhile, covering the cost of the project and grant-match requirements must be a carefully orchestrated waltz.
"We're exploring the different programs and each one has its own application cycle," Ms. Bravo said. "With the FIND grant we intend to apply over multiple years.
"It all depends on some programs and what they allow you to use as a match. One grant we receive from an agency this year might serve as a match for federal grant in a following year."
As it waits for the money, the city will also hold its breath for the corps of engineers permit.
"There's really no set timeframe," Ms. Bravo continued. "They collaborate with a number of other federal agencies."
The Miami River Commission is more optimistic.
"Recently the city received the fully executed permits for the project from [the county's environmental resources] and [the Florida Department of Environmental Protection], and anticipate the third and final permit to be issued by the [the Army Corps of Engineers] in a month," said Miami River Commission Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre in an e-mailed comment.
Once more details are firmed up, the city can actually begin deciding how the river will be cleaned up. Doing it piecemeal, as the Miami River recently was, might not be a viable option.
"We need to see how much funding we can obtain from this initial cycle of requests and see what type of critical mass that gets us to," Ms. Bravo said. "We're dealing with pollutants and we want to make sure that pieces we clean up aren't re-polluted… but we have to determine based on our available funding what makes most sense."
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