Miami-Dade Commission must ask tough questions about FPL-county wastewater plan

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Cooling canals, with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in the background.
Cooling canals, with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in the background. Miami Herald

The easiest thing that the Miami-Dade County Commission could do Tuesday is to give Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s deal with Florida Power & Light its unqualified support.

But the easiest thing wouldn’t be the best thing.

On the surface, the potential partnership looks like a win-win. The county has to find an alternative use for its wastewater, as per a mandate from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. FPL needs billions of gallons of freshwater to, among other things, “drought-proof” the cooling canals at its Turkey Point nuclear plant, as company spokeswoman told the Editorial Board on Monday.

When Gimenez unveiled his proposal earlier this year, the Board said that the deal had “potential,” but that, “Both sides need to fill in a lot of blanks.” And they still do.

And that is what the County Commission should insist upon when it hears the resolution on Tuesday. Several environmental-protection groups are concerned that county wastewater that goes into the cooling canals is considered “industrial wastewater” and therefore, by law, it doesn’t have to meet the higher standard of cleanliness of water that’s discharged into Biscayne Bay and our wetlands.

These are valid concerns: We’ve already seen leakage from cooling canals causing an underground saltwater plume that threatens our drinking water.

If the law doesn’t require it, the county needs a mechanism in place to ensure that FPL does what it says it will do. The county — and therefore its taxpayers — have been burned by taking things on faith.

As reported Sunday by Herald writer Jenny Staletovich, environmentalists also lament that the FPL-county plan withdraws the county from an agreement to retire the cooling canals and that it will also throw an Everglades restoration plan under the bus. Coastal wetlands and the bay were to be replenished with wastewater. It’s a costly proposition. But what happens to that scenario in light of the partnership with FPL?

Again, residents need definitive answers.

The county also stands ready to tacitly support FPL’s request to extend the use of its nuclear reactors and cooling canals beyond the lifespan for which they are currently approved. This goes against a previous commission resolution to convert to cooling towers, which are a safer technology. Right now, the decision on whether to extend the life of the reactors rests with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has yet to rule.

In February, the Editorial Board praised the innovative nature of the public-private partnership between FPL and the county.

But given the pitfalls, it’s incumbent upon the Commission, as stewards of the county’s finances and its environment, to do the best thing, not the easiest.