To developer, former North Miami mayor, residents say ‘enough’

County officials say workers from RRR Z Developer filled Lake Carmen in with contaminated soil. Lake Carmen is located in Little River Farms, an unincorporated neighborhood in Northwest Miami Dade County.
County officials say workers from RRR Z Developer filled Lake Carmen in with contaminated soil. Lake Carmen is located in Little River Farms, an unincorporated neighborhood in Northwest Miami Dade County. Courtesy of Little River Farms Home Owners Association

Richard Johnson, 73, and his wife, Jannie, 72, have spent the last 39 years living in Little River Farms, a small unincorporated neighborhood in Northwest Miami-Dade.

The Johnson’s say the neighborhood is comprised mostly of middle-class African American and Hispanic families, and everyone knows each other. Most importantly, and especially for the Johnsons, it’s quiet and safe.

“There are quite a few of us living here who are retired, but the neighborhood is mostly single family homes,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Since the neighborhood is located in an unincorporated pocket of the county, residents maintain the homes and streets through Little River Farm’s non-profit homeowners association that was started by the Johnson’s and 20 other residents in 1984.

Mrs. Johnson is Little River Farm’s treasurer and Mrs. Johnson is the vice president. She says the home owners association’s original mission was to protect the community.

“Here, everyone looks out for each other,” she said.

On March 31, concerned residents and members of the homeowners association met with county representatives from the Florida Department of Health, and the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources (DERM) to make sense of a four-month dispute between the residents, the county and Ricardo Rodriguez, the listed manager of RRR Z Developer, LLC who bought a lot of land in the neighborhood last year.

Emotions were high during Tuesday’s meeting, especially after recent events. Weeks before, residents were notified by the county that the developer breached the terms of a “soil improvement permit” by filling in parts of Lake Carmen, located from Northwest 22 to 17 Avenues, and 115 to 119 Streets. Even worse, inspectors found pieces of reclaimed asphalt, tile, lead and traces of arsenic and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in some areas.

Rodriguez and former North Miami mayor Joe Celestin, who Rodriguez list as a partner for the project, say they were unaware of any illegal actions taking place.

When asked whether residents should be concerned about the quality of the water and soil, Wilbur Mayorga from the Pollution Regulation and Enforcement Division of DERM said simply on Tuesday that before the county gives a definitive answer, they need to know more.

“We did a very limited initial screening and soil sampling to answer your concerns,” Mayorga said, later adding that the initial testing showed the “soil samples exceeded the public exposure criteria” for arsenic and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.

Since February’s notice to the developer, the site has reported less activity and RRR Z Developer says 12 trucks loads of land fill have since been removed. Some residents disagree if it was 12 truck loads removed, or any at all. The developer has until April 21 to complete a final soil and ground-water survey that, according to Mayorga, will paint a clearer picture at the damage.

County experts say because the small amounts of arsenic and PAHs were found at locations away from the water that it’s unlikely that there will be any offsite contamination; still, some residents worry about the long term effects of the illegal land fill and question how it was allowed in the first place.

In October 2014, RRR Z Developer purchased the lot of a land on Lake Carmen with intentions of building a house. The developer would later fill the lake with dirty sand to extend the shore line. That same month, RRR Z Developer bought the lake from a private owner in Palatka, Florida, but never obtained a proper permit to begin construction or add any lake fill.

The first documented complaint came from Mr. Johnson in November 2014 when residents reported large dump trucks trucks entering the neighborhood. The Johnsons, homeowners association president Samuel Wims, and Dalton Fullard, an active and respected resident, would spend the next months going back and forth with police and county officials to discover that the developing team overstepped the boundaries of the permit.

Wims says the developer’s negligence can cost some their health.

“[Lake Carmen] feeds directly into the Biscayne Aquifer,” said Wims, 34, adding that contamination could affect residents outside of Little River Farms.

At the meeting, many questioned the county’s handling of the case, especially District 2 County Chairmen Jean Monestime, who was described as aloof at times.

Monestime said his office worked as efficiently as it could based in the evidence and information they had at the time, but in the end gave the credit to residents.

“We need to give a hand to the community because the 26,000 county employees can not be at every block everyday of the week,” Monestime said. “There are communities where things like this happen but the dumping continues.”

When residents demanded that the remaining sediment be removed immediately, the chairmen told residents the legal process takes time but still works

His answer, however, did not put residents at ease.

Politics aside, Little River Farms has always been home for Wims.

He says the case needs to be handled properly but “enough is enough.”

“We’ve been doing this for eights months now,” Wims said. “What do we have to do to stop someone from coming in and poisoning the community?”