Letters from the Issue of March 14, 2002

University of Miami administrators called for downfield interference

Miami Shores Village has indeed been granted a charter for a high school to open in 2003, and we have a request for proposals as part of a competitive-bidding process. But we have not yet chosen any entity to run the school.

Richard Sarafan, village attorney

Miami Shores Village

The Water Is Fine, It's the Reporter Who's Polluted

Obviously that story missed the filtration system: Jim DeFede's February 14 column "Pollution Solution" contains numerous inaccuracies that must be corrected lest the people of Miami-Dade County lose confidence in a water system that provides safe, high-quality drinking water at one of the lowest costs in the state. I am a water-resource engineer with more than twenty years of experience in South Florida working for government agencies and private industry, including the lime-rock mining companies discussed in Mr. DeFede's article.

I attended the July 23, 2001, meeting that formed the basis of much of the column and have a substantially different recollection of what transpired than that reported by Mr. DeFede, who was not present. First, it was not a small private meeting of County Manager Steve Shiver, two department heads, and an industry lobbyist as reported. Rather it was a large meeting with numerous county staff from both the Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) and the Water and Sewer Department (WASD), executives and consultants from several mining companies, the county manager, and assistant county manager Pete Hernandez.

Mr. Shiver attended only the opening minutes of the meeting. Mr. Hernandez moderated the meeting and made sure all points of view were heard. At no time did DERM staff express support for the new tax on mining proposed by WASD director Bill Brant. In fact both the head of DERM and the assistant county manager stated after the meeting that they did not feel the tax was justified. Mr. Shiver was not involved in the discussion.

With respect to the supposed "threat to our drinking water," the article is equally misleading. The mining lakes do not create a habitat for cryptosporidium. The pathogen has never been detected in any mining lake during any of the numerous sampling programs carried out to date. The county recognized that limestone mining and water supply were compatible in the Seventies, when it decided to locate the county's largest and most critical wellfield in the same area that had previously been designated for mining.

The lakes could only become a problem if inappropriate land uses are allowed along the shore, and DERM and the mining companies are acting together to make sure that does not happen. The county has recently developed a Northwest Wellfield Watershed Protection Plan and hired a consultant to complete a pathogen-risk assessment for the wellfield. It is important to remember that most of the county's wellfields are designed and located to be supplied by South Florida Water Management District canals in the dry season, which are surface water sources unrelated to the lakes.

The county and the industry will also be implementing a joint water-quality-monitoring program specifically aimed at this issue. Lakes, bottom sediment, groundwater, canal water, standing water, and production wells in the northwest wellfield area will all be systematically analyzed to develop a definitive database on the presence or absence of pathogens. County ordinances already contain a setback distance separating mining activities from the wellfield. The industry has agreed not to start any new mining activities for the next three years in a much larger area surrounding the wellfield while the risk-assessment and water-quality monitoring programs are completed. This will give the county time to evaluate the scientific results and determine if any changes to the Wellfield Protection Ordinance are needed -- before deciding to construct expensive new treatment facilities. There is no threat to the water supply now, nor is one likely in the future.

Miami-Dade County is blessed with a truly unique and invaluable groundwater resource. It has also benefited from a history of progressive leadership in the Water and Sewer Department. Bill Brant is a proven professional and one of the most respected utility directors in the state. Unfortunately he is caught in the same bind that affects many of his peers around the nation. The federal Environmental Protection Agency continues to tighten water-quality regulations while Congress is no longer willing to fund the generous grant programs that eased the financial burden to comply with new regulations in the past.

At the same time Miami-Dade's water rates are among the lowest in the nation. Mr. Brant's proposed lime-rock tax was a creative attempt to reduce the impact of new treatment costs to his customers. No utility directory likes to raise water rates, but that is not a sufficient reason to single out one industry to pay an ostensible user fee that is in reality nothing more than an illogical and unfair new tax.

Thomas MacVicar

West Palm Beach

Pits of Horror

Holes in the ground, holes in the head: The Sierra Club has been concerned for some time that the Miami-Dade County "Lake Belt Plan" is not adequately protecting the environment or the county's drinking water and is unduly focused on maximizing the recovery of limestone. The proposed "lake belt" is little more than greenwashing what will be a 25-square-mile array of pits carved into the drinking-water aquifer, destruction of vast tracts of wildlife habitat, and the sucking of water out of the Everglades we are paying billions to restore. We are cannibalizing ourselves when we should know better. In years to come we will look back at these pits with horror and disbelief.

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