Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez clearly was proud to announce last week what appears to be a unique partnership with Florida Power & Light. His next step is trying to get residents — yes, FPL customers — and county commissioners to buy into what he and FPL officials say are the benefits of the deal.
The mayor believes this pact is a “win-win” for both sides. He might be right, but both sides need to fill in a lot of blanks.
Still, the partnership might set the stage, or even create the template, for similar teamwork between the public and private sectors.
At the heart of this deal is a mutual need: Both FPL and Miami-Dade need to relocate and reclaim water. “We thought: ‘How can we help each other out,’ ” the mayor told the Editorial Board last week, where he was joined by FPL executives.
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“We saw it as a great opportunity to partner with the county,” said Michael Sole, FPL’s vice president of environmental services.
Such private-public partnerships are not new, but they are increasingly important vehicles to facilitate high-quality development, redevelopment and the creation of public facilities and infrastructure. They are being used in a variety of new contexts of shared risk and responsibility. So the county and the mayor are on the cutting edge here.
As the Miami Herald’s Jenny Staletovich reported, the agreement with FPL is to share the cost of building a wastewater treatment facility at the county’s south district station. Treated wastewater would then be used to clean up the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point’s nuclear reactors, which has been leaking into groundwater and creating a saltwater plume threatening nearby drinking wells.
For the county, this solves a long standing problem, too. By using the water for cooling canals that cover 5,900 acres along Biscayne Bay, it also helps move the county closer to meeting a 2025 state deadline requiring the county to stop dumping sewage offshore and to reuse 60 percent of its wastewater.
The plan needs approval from the Miami-Dade Commission, which previously backed an effort to retire the canals. They’ll tackle the issue Feb. 8. It would also need strict water-quality rules.
How expensive this joint venture will be remains unclear, as does who will pay for what and how much. Plus, issues of ownership and management must be determined.
FPL says using reclaimed water eliminates the need to pump from the aquifer or draw fresh water from nearby canals that could instead go to Biscayne Bay or nearby wetlands. That remains to be seen. For the plan to work, FPL must get permission to extend the life of the existing reactors, a move that itself has many critics.
The reactors were first licensed in the 1970s and are due to be retired by 2033. But extending operations to 80 years would be unprecedented.
As the process rolls on, local taxpayers have every right to hold high expectations of transparency and accountability — no “gotchas” in the fine print. Though we expect negotiations to proceed with integrity and in good faith, the bait and switch of the Marlins stadium deal still stings, and helped propel Gimenez into the mayor’s seat. So he, more than most, understands the pitfalls.