Miami-Dade County

Lawsuit filed to block Miami-Dade’s $2 billion sewage treatment plant near the Everglades

The Central District Wastewater Treatment Plant on Virginia Key. Miami-Dade wants to build a new treatment plan in west Miami-Dade in part to allow it to stop sending so much sewage to be treated at the coastal plant. The proposed plant, the West District Wastewater Treatment Plant, is the subject of a lawsuit by the owners of land where the county wants to build the facility.
The Central District Wastewater Treatment Plant on Virginia Key. Miami-Dade wants to build a new treatment plan in west Miami-Dade in part to allow it to stop sending so much sewage to be treated at the coastal plant. The proposed plant, the West District Wastewater Treatment Plant, is the subject of a lawsuit by the owners of land where the county wants to build the facility. MIAMI HERALD FILE

The owner of land designated for a new sewage treatment plant in western Miami-Dade wants a judge to block construction of the facility, saying the county has skirted the approval process needed to decide where to put the $2.1 billion complex.

While years away from construction, the proposed plant is at the center of Miami-Dade’s plan to reduce the pumping of treated sewage into the Atlantic Ocean by finding alternate destinations for the county’s wastewater. The West District Wastewater Treatment Plant is the lone new treatment plant in the county’s blueprint for ending the pollution. It would join three existing plants in sending millions of gallons of treated sewage deep into the ground.

The planned sewage plant would rise not far from the end of the Dolphin Expressway, on the western edge of the county. That’s land outside the urban development boundary, which is designed to separate subdivisions and warehouse districts from the Everglades. It also sits near the county’s well-field protection areas — land over the underground aquifers that supply most of Miami-Dade’s drinking water.

While in the works for nearly a decade, the West District plant has not been on the forefront of environmental discussions in recent years. The new lawsuit prompted environmental groups to weigh in with criticism.

Miami Waterkeeper has discovered an ignored outfall sewage leak in Biscayne Bay, affecting our oceans, wildlife, and the health and safety of the public.

“We have serious concerns about building a treatment plant west of the urban development boundary,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the Miami Waterkeeper organization, a nonprofit that advocates for anti-pollution measures. “We are especially concerned that the plan seems to be utilizing deep well injection so close to where we draw drinking water from the aquifer.”

Miami-Dade sees the proposed wastewater plant as a milestone toward upgrading the county’s sewage system, which is under a state mandate to eliminate ocean “outfalls” of treated sewage by 2025. With population continuing to grow, the county says it will need a new treatment plant, and notes the western location will allow more sewage to be treated far from the current coastal plants that are vulnerable to both storm surge and sea-level rise.

The lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court comes from MDXQ, a holding company whose owners purchased the 250 acres around the proposed plant site in the early 1990s. In May, Miami-Dade notified MDXQ that the county needed 140 acres of its land for the West District plant and would use eminent domain proceedings to force a sale of the real estate.

Some of the land on the original MDXQ site was already purchased by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority for connecting State Road 836 with Northwest 137th Avenue about 13 years ago. As part of the deal, MDXQ — whose corporate name advertises its proximity to the busiest toll road run by the authority, which is best known as the MDX — paid millions to have exits built leading to its property, currently farmland.

The expressway improvements, along with the land’s position in an area designated for being brought into the urban-development zone once countywide growth targets are met, made the real estate particularly valuable for a patient investor. Once the development boundary gets moved west, MDXQ would have land in a prime location for new residential subdivisions next to one of the most popular commuting routes in Miami-Dade.

Needless to say, a massive sewer-treatment plan would alter those plans. MDXQ — whose owners overlap with the owners of the Kelly Tractor Co. in Miami — noted in its lawsuit that the county’s own zoning rules don’t mix subdivisions with sewage facilities. “The Master Plan makes it clear that wastewater treatment plants are incompatible with residential uses,” MDXQ said in the suit.

Miami-Dade had no comment on the litigation.

The University of Miami is conducting a study in Biscayne Bay to better understand how trash, sewage, oil, and harmful algae blooms get transported through South Florida waters by wind and ocean currents.

  Comments