There are 194,000 cubic yards of contaminated fill material at the Biscayne Landing development site waiting to either be used or removed, depending on results from independent testing.
The county’s newly named Regulatory and Economic Resources Department (formerly the Department of Environmental Resources Management) gave approval to Oleta Partners to use recycled fill material in January 2013 but has rescinded that approval after Joe Celestin, Biscayne Landing site manager and the city’s consultant for the project, challenged their approval.
Although some of the 90 types of chemicals, metals and compounds in the material do in exist in soil naturally, they are in greater supply in the fill material, according to Wilbur Mayorga, the chief of the regulatory agency’s environmental monitoring and restoration division.
“I was not ready to approve any amount of contaminants,” Celestin said to the Miami Herald.
Mayorga said during the city council meeting on Tuesday that only aluminium has a high leaching potential — the ability of minerals, metals and other nutrients to seep into groundwater from the soil — and none of the metals are at a high enough level to be dangerous to human health.
The levels of aluminum are at levels higher than acceptable according to Chapter 24 of the Miami-Dade County Code, which regulates environmental protection.
“My job is to protect Chapter 24 as the city’s consultant,” Celestin said.
He said that if there had not been a groundwater-cleaning system in place at the site since June, the fill material would not have been accepted at all. But even with the system in place, the health risk is too high for the former North Miami mayor and certified landfill operator and builder.
“If you contaminate the water, you contaminate everything else. And I don’t want to do that, to expose the health and safety of the residents,” Celestin said.
He issued a stop-work order in March and no fill material has been brought to the site since, but there is still material at the site.
Celestin recommends that the material be removed, but he added later that the cost could be in the millions — $5 to $10 million. It includes not just removal of the material, but also its storage.
“The material must go to a fill that accepts contaminated material,” Celestin said after a presentation he made to the council on his and the county’s findings at the site.
A decision on what to do with the material won’t come before the city council gets results from independent testing, for which they unanimously voted that Oleta Partners must pay. The council is hoping to have those results by the next meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. on Oct. 8.
“We have to do this to put our residents at peace,” said Mayor Lucie Tondreau during the council meeting on Tuesday.
The developer, however, welcomed the decision, as several tests have already been done on the fill material, including tests the county has conducted.
“We had four other testers, so we know what they’ll find,” said Herbert Tillman, vice president of the Swerdlow Group. “We’ll pay, we’re fine with that.”
Several people spoke during the meeting to stress to the council the point of the material being safe enough: Keith Tolson, a professor at the University of Florida with a doctoral degree in toxicology who also represents the developer; and John Allred, a North Miami resident and a subcontractor at Biscayne Landing.