Homestead's Dirt

In South Miami-Dade it's all in the land -- the earth, the profits, and the sweet deals

A December 22 deadline for proposals was advertised. But on that day, the deadline was extended to January 19. Rivero says that made him suspicious. Baldwin counters he extended the schedule as a courtesy to applicants because the original date was so close to the holidays.

Councilman Bateman is also wary. "There are unanswered questions: Why did we extend the deadline? Was ATC in the bid process prior to the extension?"

Eventually five companies submitted bids, including ATC Associates, Inc. The first of six subcontractors listed by ATC is Mestre's Resource Reclamation Services. RRS would haul contaminated fill from the site, and replace it with fresh fill. ATC regional vice president Mark Lynch says he chose RRS because he had worked with them in the past, not because Mestre was seen as politically influential. "I selected RRS because they deliver timely and quality services," Lynch says.

Damn the lawsuit, full speed ahead! The Redland Co. blasts away on the "big-lake"  site
Steve Satterwhite
Damn the lawsuit, full speed ahead! The Redland Co. blasts away on the "big-lake" site
Lawyer John Shubin argues that Homestead unfairly excluded his client from bidding on at least three city projects
Steve Satterwhite
Lawyer John Shubin argues that Homestead unfairly excluded his client from bidding on at least three city projects

The city appointed a committee of four city employees and one noncity employee to review the proposals. The committee assigned scores, up to 25 points, to each firm, based on criteria such as "Landfill Redevelopment Experience," and "Quality/Quantity of Success for Similar Situations." In the end, ATC won. Two committee members gave Parsons 15 points for experience, and ATC 20 and 25 points. Assistant city manager and former police chief Curtis Ivy, Jr., initially gave Parsons 25 points for experience, then crossed it out and gave the firm a 20. He gave ATC 25 points. In fact Ivy gave that company a perfect score of 100. Michael Tavano, the city's director of public works, gave ATC an 86, and Parsons a 68 overall. "[ATC] had a lot of relationships with state agencies, like the DEP and DERM," Tavano says. "A lot of Parsons's experience was out-of-state."

The only committee member to rank Parsons higher than ATC was Edward Swakon. He was also the only noncity employee and the only engineer. Swakon could not be reached for comment.

ATC's Lynch says the team he assembled for the project, from local construction company Redland to powerhouse developers Terremark, helped win the confidence of the committee. Lynch also points out that his proposal emphasizes the possibility of commercial development on the site, such as stores. Conversely Parsons's development partner, Florida Environmental Developers, was a firm organized solely for the dump project.

But Parsons's lawyer Rivero counters that according to the proposal, ATC simply doesn't have the experience his firm has in closing and developing dumps. Parsons was the lead engineering firm in the closure of the Old South Dade Landfill, taking on a $15 million chunk of the $30 million project. ATC's contracts are far smaller. For instance in the first completed project it lists as a reference, the former Ojus Landfill, ATC was paid $1.4 million out of a $20 million contract. (Lynch responds that the majority of that contract was for construction of a school.)

As for developing commercial space on the dump site, Rivero says his team is open to that as well. But until the soil is tested, he says, no one can say with certainty that buildings will be allowed.

ATC's ranking bewildered councilman Berrones. "From my understanding of the proposals, Parsons had more experience doing this kind of thing. I was surprised," he says.

Once the committee ranked ATC on top, Baldwin started negotiations. He first asked for a more detailed plan. According to Baldwin, vague wording on the new set of documents left open the possibility the city would have to fund some of the project. Without going into detail Baldwin says, "I had questions about their initial proposal. I demanded there be clarity [on cost]." Lynch says he has since allayed those fears. "[The proposal] wasn't clear. Charlie Baldwin asked some tough questions. Let me be emphatic, this project will not ask the City of Homestead to pay one penny for the closure or redevelopment of the landfill."

When negotiations are completed, the city council will vote on whether to approve the ATC proposal or not. Shiver, responding to critics, asked city attorneys to decide whether Mestre's fundraiser was a conflict of interest, and if it should prevent him from voting on the contract. On July 8 the firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza & Guedes sent its reply: There did not appear to be a conflict of interest because the mayor did not receive direct tangible gifts. The mayor was free to vote.

"Let the red flags fly; I did not do anything improper," Shiver declares, adding that the criticism is coming from would-be political opponents and a business interest. The date of the vote has not yet been set.

There is a second act to this tale of dirt.

A mile and a half east of the dump site sits another city project, a 62-acre expanse of shallow, murky water sectioned off by earthen dikes. The millions of cubic yards of dirt and rock lying beneath this city-owned tract are the key to completing two other nearby public jobs. The city wants to turn the marsh into a lake, then use the extracted dirt to fill a proposed industrial park, and to create additional parking for the Homestead Motorsports Complex.

Early this year the city contracted with one firm to dig the lake and remove the fill -- without opening the projects to public bid. The firm, the Redland Co., is a major campaign fundraiser for Steve Shiver, and also happens to be a subcontractor on the ATC dump bid.

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