Sewergate

If you think Dade County is a filthy mess now, just wait till you're drowning in it

As for poor connections and decaying pipes, Assistant County Manager Tony Clemente says Dade "really needs to re-evaluate the standards for sewer construction" in the same way it's re-evaluating other construction standards after Hurricane Andrew.

And acknowledging the need for water-quality testing, the county is about to commence a three-month trial of weekly sampling of coastal waters. The trial tests, though, will only occur along the Rickenbacker Causeway, not any other bathing beaches. In addition, HRS, environmental agencies, and the county's sewer department are coordinating emergency-spill response plans to ensure more prompt treatment and faster notification to the public.

But these initial steps may not be enough to avert a federal lawsuit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently requested from the county reams of information regarding recent sewage spills and the cross-bay pipeline. Such requests often are precursors to legal action, and the federal government is able to levy steep fines. The demand for documents has sent chills through Dade County government. "It makes me nervous because of what the final outcome might be," confides DERM's J centsse L centspez. "They love the big fish. An enforcement action here would be an example for the little ones."

"We take this very seriously when you've got the kinds of overflows that have been happening in Dade County," says W. Ray Cunningham, director of the EPA's water management division in Atlanta. "We have to determine that there isn't an iceberg under this."

Like the proverbial submerged iceberg, Dade's sewer crisis has remained out of the public eye, and local officials apparently had hoped to keep it that way. But the danger is now in full view. "There's greater public awareness of this, and we need some time while we can develop plans," pleads Tony Clemente. "We need to tell the community this thing will be solved." Assuaging the electorate is one thing, and mollifying angry federal officials is another. But mastering time is something else again.

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