Key Biscayne council members have been talking about whether to jump into a court battle over a Miami-Dade County sewage treatment plant that has been leaking into Biscayne Bay.
Council members are concerned about how the leaks might be affecting water quality in the bay, especially at the island village’s beaches.
Miami-Dade’s Central District Wastewater Treatment Plant, on Virginia Key, serves the village and other parts of the county, including Coconut Grove. The plant is at the center of a recent lawsuit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is suing the county for violations of the Clean Water Act. The intention is to force the county to deal with the decaying system. Local environmental group Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers has joined the suit and their attorney, village resident Albert J. Slap, brought the issue to the attention of Key Biscayne’s Village Council.
The county is already working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department to find an acceptable solution for the plant. The current proposed fix includes $550 million in repairs at Virginia Key’s treatment plant alone and would not be completed for 15 years.
Current proposals by the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer department include drilling deep injection wells below the plant to deal with excess waste.
Vice Mayor Mayra Lindsay proposed late last year that the village hire outside consultants to explain the benefits and shortcomings of the county’s plan. Council members asked the village manager to find a suitable consulting firm.
The council expressed concerns that the updates would bring the plant to compliance of current standards, but would not go far enough to protect against hurricane damage or rising water levels.
Mayor Franklin Caplan reiterated the conclusions of the University of Miami geologist’s study that found that the sea water levels have already risen and will continue to rise, creating risks for coastal cities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated that it expects sea levels to rise by 3 feet by 2060. This impacts the plant directly and council members expressed concern that the proposed updates do not address the inevitable results of leaving the plant at current sea level.
The village’s first concern is about the proposed plan and any potential agreements Miami-Dade county is making with the federal government. Specifically, the village wants to know whether the plan is, in Village Attorney Stephen Helfman’s words, “immediate enough and comprehensive enough.”
The council also discussed solutions to allow residents to preserve permanent structures on their property, such as homes, patios, and driveways, while respecting the need to maintain a green village. A decision was not reached, leaving the debate open for future meetings.
The village underwent a massive greening project decades ago that included the planting of many trees throughout the island. Additionally, regulations on privately owned trees were put in place to ensure the island maintained a constant or increasing level of greenery. Residents’ are now finding themselves stuck with trees suffering from whitefly damage or that are causing property damage.