Miami-Dade County Approves $1.6 Billion Infrastructure Plan

Miami-Dade commissioners recently approved an agreement with the federal and state governments to settle violations of environmental laws and committing $1.6 billion over the next 15 years to fix the county’s antiquated water and sewer pipes.

?Any world-class city has good infrastructure, and the most important infrastructure in any city is its water and sewer,? Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the board. ?Without water, we can’t live. Without getting rid of wastewater, then we’re susceptible to disease.?

The consent decree will force the county to upgrade its leaky sewage system following violations of laws such as the federal Clean Water Act.

In addition to the $1.6 billion in repairs, the county will have to incur other expenses, including $15 million to cover maintenance and management costs, $2 million over five years from general-obligation bond funds to install sewers in an industrial and commercial area north of the Miami River to reduce water pollution, a one-time $978,100 civil fine and $825,000 to hire an outside monitor to oversee the decree’s implementation.

The county has been negotiating the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since February 2012. Without it, the federal and state governments could impose steeper penalties on Miami-Dade. The agencies must now approve the agreement and send it to a federal judge in Miami, who must also approve it.

Commissioners signed off on the agreement by a 12-1 vote. Commissioner Javier Souto was the lone dissenter, saying he could not support likely water-rate hikes over the next few years to finance some of the repairs. Miami-Dade residents cannot afford it, he argued.

The administration projects that quarterly water bills, which have long been among the lowest in the nation, will rise about 33 percent over the next five years, to $185 from $135. Gimenez plans to propose an initial 8 percent hike in next year’s budget, with additional increases over the next four years.

None of the commissioners who spoke were pleased with the looming increase for next year, but Commissioner Lynda Bell called for perspective, saying the hike would be ?cheaper than a Starbucks cup of coffee per month.?

Commissioners also gave preliminary approval recently to issuing $4.2 billion in bonds to finance the first phase of the improvements. The county has about $160 million in bond money already available for sewer upgrades. The board’s finance committee had delayed a vote on the bonds last week, saying they wanted more information.

The consent decree only covers sewage projects, John Renfrow, director of the county’s water and sewer department, told commissioners. Miami-Dade needs at least $11 billion more in other improvements, he added.

Some information contained in this?news update?was taken from a report by the Miami Herald?in May.?

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