South Florida

South Dade landfill wants to expand on wetlands slated for Everglades restoration

With space in the county’s South Dade landfill, pictured here and widely known as Mt. Trashmore , expected to run out in 2029, Waste Management Inc. wants to expand its nearby dump to neighboring wetlands targeted for Everglades restoration.
With space in the county’s South Dade landfill, pictured here and widely known as Mt. Trashmore , expected to run out in 2029, Waste Management Inc. wants to expand its nearby dump to neighboring wetlands targeted for Everglades restoration. Miami Herald Staff

With space in Miami-Dade County landfills in danger of filling up amid the region’s renewed construction boom, Waste Management Inc. wants to expand its South Dade dump into nearby wetlands.

There’s just one thing standing in the way: a $164 million project to help fix the Everglades.

The land, at the corner of Southwest 328th Street and 117th Avenue, is in the footprint of the Biscayne Bay coastal wetlands project, a plan to undo decades of damage to Biscayne Bay from manmade canals by restoring the natural flow of freshwater as well as protecting wellfields that supply drinking water. As sea levels rise, the revived marshes also are expected to help fight flooding and saltwater intrusion.

The county, which passed a resolution last month to speed up the restoration work, already has spent $8.6 million on the project.

All we can do is push back with water and this is key for that area.

Tropical Audubon Executive Director Laura Reynolds

“All we can do is push back with water and this is key for that area,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds, who said the county should protect the wetland site.

But Waste Management Inc., which wants to more than double its existing dump to 110 acres, says it is helping the county deal with another crisis: rapidly filling landfills.

The county’s main 300-acre landfill along south Biscayne Bay, better known as Mount Trashmore, is expected to max out by 2032. Waste Management’s landfill, which takes only construction debris and yard waste, will likely fill up in eight years, according to a preliminary application submitted in September. An expansion would add another 15 years and keep the dump open until 2050. When Waste Management filed the application, the company thought the expansion fell outside wetlands slated for restoration, said spokeswoman Dawn McCormick.

2029The year Miami-Dade County’s Homestead landfill is expected to run out of room.

“We believed, based on the survey work done for us, that we were not encroaching on any (Everglades work),’’ she said. “Our intent was not to.”

But earlier this month, the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management recommended rejecting the application, saying the expansion sits squarely in the footprint of the project and would “result in destruction of wetlands that have been designated for protection and restoration.”

McCormick said there may be some confusion over project boundaries.

“Our experts interpreted this as us not crossing in,’’ she said. “So we definitely need to work with DERM to clarify our understanding of the boundaries and their understanding.”

Even if the landfill falls outside the boundaries, Everglades Law Center attorney Julie Dick said its continued operation needs to be reviewed because the dump was never intended to be run long term.

The landfill first opened in 1993 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew to handle mounds of debris from the region hardest hit by the powerful Category 5 storm. Altogether, the storm destroyed tens of thousands of homes and damaged another 100,000. DERM officials said the dump was approved “under emergency conditions” and that these conditions no longer exist.

“I don’t think it was ever evaluated,” Dick said. “It was we have an emergency from Andrew and we need a landfill. Quickly. If it was well thought out, I’m not clear that it would ever have been authorized in the first place.”

It compliments the goals of the Miami-Dade Solid Waste master plan by preserving landfill space.

Waste Management Inc. spokeswoman Dawn McCormick

But in June 2013, the county approved an upwards expansion requested by Waste Management, which gave about $36,000 in campaign donations to county incumbents over the last two years, including $13,000 to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Adding more space to the east, McCormick said, “complements the goals of the Miami-Dade Solid Waste master plan by preserving landfill space.”

County waste managers, however, said the expansion would have little effect since so little construction debris is delivered to the county landfill — a more costly Class 1 dump that takes a variety of waste, from animal carcasses to shredded tires.

“It doesn’t benefit our system in any way,” said spokeswoman Gayle Love.

In addition to working out how the expansion would fit into restoration work, Waste Management also must obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the dump would go on wetlands.

McCormick said the wetlands also have been “highly disturbed and degraded” over the years. To make up for turning them into a dump, she said Waste Management would help restore wetlands elsewhere.

But in a letter to the Corps asking for an environmental review, Dick — representing Tropical Audubon and the National Parks Conservation Association — argued that adding more wetlands won’t matter if they’re not in the right place. Dick said that before a project that potentially pollutes water is approved, other locations must be considered.

“The proposed project involves the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters,” she wrote. “Waste Management … does not in fact own the land it proposes to use for the landfill expansion. It could expand in any other location.”

Rather than enlarge the dump in an area increasingly vulnerable to sea rise — since 1995, underground saltwater just south of the landfill has moved about two miles inland — Reynolds said efforts should be made to buy the site using the state’s Amendment 1 money. The amendment, overwhelmingly supported by voters, is supposed to use taxes from real estate deals to buy sensitive land, but state legislators have mostly spent the money on administrative costs, prompting a lawsuit from critics who said the lawmakers violated the amendment.

“It’s just a matter of time [before we get] Amendment 1 money to buy that land,” Reynolds said. “There are lands to the west and I would suggest expanding to the west or vertically. But not to the east. That’s all we want.”

Staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

Jenny Staletovich: 305-376-2109, @jenstaletovich

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