El Portal cleanup projects among finalists in Our Miami Public Space Challenge funding contest

Two proposed projects that would help clean up and expand El Portal’s nature trail have been entered into a contest that could help fund them.

Former councilman Adam Old wants to bring a water wheel to the village to help clean up Little River. Mayor Claudia Cubillos would like to expand the village’s 15,000-square-foot nature trail to a community park of almost 40,000 square feet.

Both proposals have been entered into the Miami Foundation Our Miami Public Space Challenge. The deadline for proposals was April 1. Both projects are finalists.

The contest offers a way to help fund local improvements. Fifty finalists were chosen this year from more than 350 submissions. The winning projects — about 15 to 20, to be announced in August — will receive a share of a $305,000 pool to help make them a reality. The Miami Foundation, Baptist Health South Florida and Health Foundation of South Florida provide the funds.

A water wheel uses the current of the river turning a water wheel to power a conveyor that removes trash directly from the river. Currently, Baltimore has had success with a water wheel that the city installed.

“There is always a huge floating island of trash and debris that is really depressing,” Old said. “When I saw the video for the water wheel working in Baltimore it seemed like a great fit for the Little River.”

He said there is a lot of floating trash, tires, dead animals, foam coolers and bottles, to name a few. Old has been proposing projects for the past three years to the contest.

Although the river is in the southern boundary of the village, the South Florida Water Management District manages it.

The Baltimore water wheel “has collected more than 182.58 tons in less than a year, so it is very effective,” Old said.

Old doesn’t know how much a Little River water wheel would cost. Baltimore’s water wheel cost about $800,000, but it is much larger than the one that can be installed on the Little River.

Not only does the wheel collect trash, but it is gentle on animals.

“It is slow enough that fish and manatees would not be bothered by it, and there is a photovoltaic assist on sunny days and when the current is slow,” he said.

Cubillos’ project would expand the village’s nature trail by taking down a fence that separates it from Horace Mann Middle School and work with Miami-Dade County Schools to take over an additional 40-by-600 feet of seldom-used field space.

“I’m excited that both of our projects were selected as finalists for the Public Space Challenge,” she said. “It’s exciting to see residents, such as Adam Old, be engaged in the process of moving our village forward and making it a better place. His idea is brilliant and will help our very much needed canal.”