Miami Beach

Miami Beach built a sea wall without a permit. Now it may have to tear parts down.

Miami Beach seawall construction December 2017

Drone video shot by Captain Dan Kipnis and published to YouTube shows the construction of a seawall on Indian Creek Drive which Miami Beach will likely have to rip out and replace due to lack of proper permits, video is from Dec. 2017.
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Drone video shot by Captain Dan Kipnis and published to YouTube shows the construction of a seawall on Indian Creek Drive which Miami Beach will likely have to rip out and replace due to lack of proper permits, video is from Dec. 2017.

Miami Beach may have to tear out three chunks of its newly constructed Indian Creek Drive seawall — at a potential cost of about $800,000 — after the now-ousted chief city engineer built the wall without proper permits.

The infamously flood-prone road (a scene in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel”) is undergoing a $25.5 million upgrade to keep the street usable in the face of sea level rise. That includes elevating the road, installing groundwater drainage pumps and building a higher public seawall between 25th Street and 41st Street.

The seawall became an issue when it was revealed that the city’s engineer, Bruce Mowry, oversaw the construction of the wall without the necessary permits. He told the Miami Herald he skipped the permits in an attempt to cut through bureaucracy and speed up the project.

Most of the project still meets the standards necessary for a permit, but three parts of the wall — about 400 feet of the total 2,700 feet built so far — were built too far into the Indian Creek waterway and may need to be torn out and replaced.

In a letter Eric Carpenter, the assistant city manager, wrote to the permitting agencies in July, he apologized and said the city was “chagrined” at how several sections of the seawall were installed.

“The construction errors have already cost the City substantial funds, undercut our ability to serve our residents, and have delayed the completion of a project needed to minimize street flooding,” he wrote.

After months of negotiation, Carpenter said the regulatory agencies asked the city to submit its permit modifications for the three portions in question — between 37th and 38th Street, 30th and 31st Street and 29th and 30th Street. If the modifications are accepted, the permitting process can begin.

Progress on the wall stopped in January and won’t resume until all the permitting is complete. It isn’t clear how long that will take.

In what Carpenter called a “worst case scenario,” rebuilding the seawall pieces could cost as much as $800,000 if the city isn’t allowed to reuse the pieces it built when it moves the wall inland. So far, he said, the city has spent about $5 million of the $8 million estimated cost of the seawall to finish more than half of it.

Obviously we still have a lot more work out there to do to finish up the missing segments as well as the three other portions,” he said.

The city doesn’t even own all the land necessary to complete the seawall yet. Carpenter said paperwork has been signed for 21 of the 25 lots, but the city is “very close” to the 22nd and “optimistic” about the 23rd. Any property owners who don’t sign easements allowing the city to build a seawall on their land may find themselves subject to a special tax to fund construction of the wall.

The seawall complications don’t affect the road project, which is about to enter the second phase of construction. The road itself is over budget, behind schedule and may not even reach all the way to its original destination of 41st Street.

Recently, Carpenter said, the state’s Department of Transportation secured another $6 million for the road and seawall project, to which the city will contribute another $1.5 million. That may help the project get closer to the intended destination, even with pricey delays and construction errors.

Carpenter said the city expects to start looking for a contractor to finish the road project in September with a plan of hiring one within two months.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tour Sunset Harbor to view Miami Beach's efforts against sea-level rise.

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