In parts of Doral, the aromas of blooming gardenias, the freshly mown grass of its golf courses and sizzling Venezuelan arepas have increasingly been overpowered by the wafting odors of garbage.
In unfortunate pockets of the city, the rotten-egg stench makes its way into palatial, half-million-dollar homes and condos. The source? The Medley landfill and the county’s Covanta Waste Energy Facility, which sit nearby.
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Last month, the city began looking into buying devices that would help measure just how bad the odors are. Many residents have asked that the garbage dumps be shut down, but an audit done last year says neither of the facilities has violated any permits.
Since 2014, odor complaints in Doral have more than tripled as residential developments have boomed. In the last year, the city received about 1,075 complaints. That number climbed from 425 complaints in 2015 and 293 in 2014, city officials said.
It’s unclear if the odor complaints have increased because there are more people living there now or because the odor has gotten worse.
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez.
“It’s unclear if the odor complaints have increased because there are more people living there now or because the odor has gotten worse,” said Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez.
If it’s a good day, residents say they can walk their dogs without holding their breath. Perhaps they can even have a barbeque. But if it’s a bad day and the wind blows the wrong way, forget all outdoor activities, run home and light a vanilla bean candle — you’ll need it.
“It’s like rotten eggs mixed with paint fumes,” said Alex Rodriguez, who lives near the landfill. “The closer you get to the dumps, the worse the smell.”
Although both garbage facilities have the same purpose — to get rid of your trash — they are different. Medley’s property, operated by Waste Management and located off Northwest 93rd Street and 89th Avenue, is a landfill, where garbage is piled up and capped.
Covanta, located off Northwest 69th Street and 97th Avenue, is an incinerator where 1.2 million tons of garbage a year is burned at more than 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The ashes are then piled up, creating an “ash-fill.”
Most of the surrounding land was once zoned for industrial use. But in the early 1980s, before Doral was incorporated as a city, Miami-Dade County changed pockets of the area to “traditional neighborhood development” — homes, shops, offices and public buildings.
In 2014, the city got 293 complaints about odors from the two waste facilities. In 2016, the number of complaints had more than tripled to 1,075.
As new homes rose, the county contended that the zoning changes were consistent with the county’s master plan, compatible with development in the surrounding area, and not contrary to the public interest.
“If I remember correctly, at the time, the surrounding residents supported the change because if not it would have been a lot more truck traffic. People who already lived near that area didn’t want more trucks zooming through their communities,” Bermudez said.
Today, about 80 new housing developments sit within a two-mile radius of the dumps. Seven of those subdivisions are within half a mile of the Medley landfill or Covanta.
Since 2006, home buyers have been required to sign a waiver, acknowledging that they live near a waste facility.
Residents say the stench gets worse when it rains, when it’s hot, or when there’s wind.
“Which is like every day in Miami, right?” said Pierre Christ, a Doral resident. “We call it ‘Mount Trashmore.’ With Medley, you have an overwhelming, acidic irritating smell. With Covanta, you have a huge mountain of ashes in the open air.”
According to a 2016 audit, both facilities are in compliance and haven’t violated any permit conditions.
According to a 2016 audit by environmental consulting firm, R.J. Behar & Company, Inc. — which the city paid to identify specific sources of odors and to propose solutions — both facilities are in compliance and haven’t violated any permit conditions.
Although both dumps have systems to control odors, the audit recommended the city purchase air monitoring devices to detect and measure gases such as ethyl mercaptan, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
Auditors said the devices would make detecting odors less subjective and can pinpoint problem areas. That data can then be provided to regulators. The cons? Each device costs about $80,000 and would require constant calibration and maintenance.
Last month, the City Council held a legislative priorities workshop with lobbyists Ron Book and Jose Diaz on the possibilities of securing state funding or grants for the effort.
In 2015, the city went as far as to pass an “odor ordinance” that penalizes residents and businesses if they cannot control odors coming from their property. The measure was approved after 309 complaints about odors were recorded within a six-month period.
“I’m glad the city is looking into [air monitoring devices], but I’m more concerned about the environmental impact and health repercussions,” Christ said. “For years, word has always been that they’re going to cap the landfill.”
In recent years, residents have taken action but have fallen short of changing much. In 2015, a Facebook page was created under the name of “Close Waste Disposal Sites at Doral.” The year before that, more than 2,300 signatures were collected on an online petition, but fell short of the number needed.
According to the audit, research from 2008 predicts that emissions at the landfill won’t reach their threshold until at least 2025. The county’s incinerator remains in the master plan for at least another 45 years. Covanta’s contract to operate the facility doesn’t expire until 2023.
“If you spray Chanel on garbage, it’s still going to smell like garbage sprayed with Chanel,” said William Meredith, Covanta’s business manager. “There’s not much we can do at this point except try to be good neighbors.”