Miami Beach

Miami Beach residents worry: Will city's anti-flood work dump water in my yard?

Neighbors in the central Bayshore neighborhood of Miami Beach met with officials Tuesday to discuss why the city wants to build higher roads, replace drainage pipes and install a force pump to remove water from the streets when tidal flooding occurs.

The open house format was a different approach by the city because of the need for nuanced conversations and the level of concern among property owners that the city is moving fast on infrastructure projects that are not completely understood by the public.

Hosted in Miami Beach Senior High’s media center, the open house featured several stations where residents spoke one-on-one with consultants and city staff about the details of the project, which is going to start its next phase soon. Some underground water main work has already been finished near the high school. The cost of the whole project is $18 million.

Work like this, the upcoming project in the La Gorce and Lakeview neighborhoods and in-progress work on West Avenue and Sunset Harbour are long-planned improvements that have been beefed up to handle drainage needs for the next several decades as the sea level rises and tidal flooding is expected to happen more frequently.

“We need a good way for people to just talk and ask questions and learn,” said Susy Torriente, the assistant city manager who oversees the Beach’s efforts to grapple with how to plan for impending sea rise. “This is such a complex issue.”

City staffers did a fair amount of learning how residents feel, which ranged from measured support to outright skepticism.

“A project like this is way overdue,” said Jim Mullin, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 23 years. He’s been waiting to redo his driveway for more than a decade because he wants to see what the city will do with the newly paved road in front of his home.

Each homeowner will want to know what will happen to their property when the crown of the street is raised. Officials explained that through valley gutters and swales with grates, runoff from the street will not spill onto private land.

Mullin still had concerns, particularly with what would happen if the stormwater pumps malfunction.

City engineers and public works employees showed examples of work done in other low-lying parts of the city to illustrate how they make driveways meet the street and how water flows through the pump system that expels the water into Biscayne Bay.

At one of the stations, a city consultant walked residents through a new database tool that calculates, in inches, the difference between the elevation of an individual property and the crown of the road once it is elevated. It draws from data that contains elevations for each property in the neighborhood.

“We want to convert this into plain English,” said Marcia Tobin, a principal with AECOM, the consulting company working with the city on all of its stormwater infrastructure projects.

This kind of tool will soon be available citywide so people can understand impacts on their specific properties.

Another impact to consider: the quality of the water being pumped into Biscayne Bay. The new pump system filters large debris (plastic bottles, soda cans, etc.) and removes sediments and oils, all of which were not being removed before. But samples taken during recent king tides showed elevated amounts of fecal bacteria in the water, leading to concerns about what will happen when more pumps are working more often.

Bruce Mowry, the Beach’s engineer, told the Miami Herald the city is exploring newly developed ways of treating the water before it is pumped out. These include ultraviolet lights and a physical screen that is treated with anti-bacterial substance to kill unwanted agents.

In the coming months, city staffers want to propose a program that would allow private property owners to connect to upgraded street drainage systems for a fee. This would allow homeowners who have drainage issues to keep their properties dry after the streets are raised. This kind of program requires approval from the City Commission.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech