Miami-Dade County, under a federal government mandate for neglecting its water and sewer system, will spend $1.6 billion over the next decade and a half to upgrade its decrepit underground pipes.
But those pricey renovations will not accomplish what some property owners have been pleading for for years: to extend the lines to pockets of the county still stuck with water wells and septic tanks that have hindered business growth.
To expand the system to all residential and commercial properties would cost a lot more — about $8.5 billion, according to a cost estimate prepared by the water and sewer department.
The county does not have that kind of cash. But some commissioners say Miami-Dade should consider tackling at least some of the expansion in more manageable pieces, beginning with the about $230 million it would cost to bring sewer pipes to commercial and industrial areas.
On Tuesday, commissioners are scheduled to vote on a proposal to develop a plan to run the sewer pipes to major commercial and industrial corridors across the county, including Northwest 79th Street, Biscayne Boulevard, Northwest Seventh Avenue, Northwest 27th Avenue, Southwest 40th Street and South Dixie Highway.
The plan would be incorporated into the water and sewer department’s five-year capital program, according to the proposal sponsored by Commissioner Jean Monestime, whose district includes the largest patches of land without access to the piping system.
“They find the cost impossibly expensive, so instead of business coming to these corridors, some of them decide to go elsewhere,” he said. “These urban corridors have had a hard time attracting investment.”
Among the property owners Monestime has heard from is Glenn Wyatt, owner for 35 years of Dynamic Power Hydraulic, a hydraulic vehicle engine repair business in the Bunn Crest subdivision near Brownsville. His business, on Northwest 69th Street near 32nd Avenue, is on a septic tank. He owns an adjacent parcel that he cannot develop because it has no sewer hookup, and health regulations prohibit him from getting a septic-tank permit, he said.
“We’re right now limited to five employees. If we were able to get the sewer in there and we could build another building, then we could probably expand — then we could probably have at least 10 employees,” Wyatt said.
It’s not just in Monestime’s district — which encompasses much of Liberty City, Opa-locka and North Miami — where businesses are hurting for water and sewer hookups.
The directors of MWL Engineering, a precision metal-work plant just outside South Miami, have been asking the county for five years to install sewer lines in their street.
The company, which sits in the middle of a warehouse district off U.S. 1, bought a building adjacent to its plant to grow its business. But it has been unable to purchase equipment to powder-coat the metal pieces it produces because county environmental regulations would require the new machine to be connected to a sewer pipe.
So MWL has put its plan to hire up to 10 new workers — growing its workforce of 48 by almost 20 percent — on hold. The company continues to send its pieces elsewhere to be coated and then brings them back to assemble.
“We’re stuck,” said Cristina Espinosa, the company’s chief financial officer. “We cannot bring in more jobs without bringing in more business, and we cannot bring more business unless we’re able to implement the powder-coating.”