Miami-Dade cities, county, utilities must coordinate sewer upgrades

While walking through Wynwood a resident asked me about my past as a White House press correspondent. Prior to being mayor, I was a journalist in print, radio and TV. In 40 years as a journalist I had the pleasure of interviewing presidents, revolutionaries and world leaders from Angola to Nicaragua, from Moscow to Washington. I also served as a White House correspondent during the Reagan years and Bush 41.

“Who was your favorite president?” The resident asked.

“Ronald Regan,” I responded. “He always made an effort to establish common ground with everyone, including the press.” Today, Reagan’s legacy has been somewhat distorted; personally after dozens of hours spent with the actual man, Wikileaks or not, I maintain that one of his greatest attributes was that he always provided other leaders with a seat at the table.

Currently, Miami-Dade County is embarking on its largest infrastructure overhaul in decades, the upgrading and repair of our water and sewer system. This necessary project, which is mainly based on a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Florida, is expected to take about 15 years. However, amid the rush there has been an enormous oversight: There has been absolutely no discussion of how other capital projects at the state, county and city levels will be affected by this mammoth undertaking.

That is why Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the county’s Water and Sewer Department (WASA) should consider taking a page from Reagan’s book and allowing the input of municipal and private stakeholders. Specifically, the municipal mayors, managers, capital works directors, FPL and the telecommunication companies deserve a seat at the table. Together we can see where and — more important — if our capital projects intersect with the proposed overhaul, and in so doing ensure that this process is more efficient and less intrusive to our residents and business owners.

As a Miami city commissioner I saw on many occasions how the city paved streets and then, months later, WASA or a utility or a telecommunication company tore up the same street, then patched it up and moved on. Immediately afterwards we received calls from dozens of residents complaining about government waste and lack of foresight. They couldn’t understand why the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

Why was their new street a mess? We tried to explain that these were all different agencies with different goals. Honestly, our residents were right, it is frustrating. We need to work together to not just save resources but to maintain our residents’ confidence in government.

But this isn’t just about tearing up streets and sidewalks. From what little we know, for example, as part of the water and sewer overhaul plan, in residential homes the water main will be moved from the back yard to the front.

If this is the case, these improvements will trigger the need for a permit, and in many cases the permit will require an up-to-date survey. Every home will be visited by an inspector and every home will need a current survey.

This places the burden directly on residents who are not only paying for the improvements with higher water rates but now must also pay hundreds of dollars to a private surveyor.

Recently, at the invitation of Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, I sat at the table with Mayor Gimenez and other mayors to discuss school security and safety. As is usually the case, the logistics for these kinds of events are complicated and cannot be solved in one meeting. However, we all attended because of its importance.

Today I hope that WASA and Mayor Gimenez will consider a similar invitation so we can all weigh in on the water and sewer overhaul plan. This investment, which will be at least $4.25 billion, will be paid for by our generation, our children and our grandchildren. Therefore, we owe it to current and future residents to make this enormous infrastructure investment a collaborative effort.

I can only speak for myself and our city staff, but Mayor Gimenez, just say when, and we’ll be there.

Tomás Regalado is the mayor of Miami.

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