By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Key Biscayne resident Judi Kolson used to love paddling the waters of Biscayne Bay. The breast cancer survivor would regularly paddle a kayak from Marine Stadium around Virginia Key and out into the blue waters.
Unfortunately, those waters aren't as crystalline as they look, as Kolson realized when an open cut on her leg developed into a nasty infection. Now she has asked a federal court to let her join a regulatory lawsuit against Miami-Dade County for letting the local sewer system go to, well, crap.
"Over the past several years, millions of gallons of raw sewage have been discharged onto the land and into our navigable waters," her lawsuit says, "due to mismanagement and inadequate investments by the county."
Kolson filed the affidavit last week with the nonprofit environmental organization Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper.
They added her story to the suit already filed by the U.S. government and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection alleging Miami-Dade is in violation of the Clean Water Act and has failed to maintain the sewage system adequately.
The result: Massively leaking pipes are posing an "imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of the public." County officials themselves estimate fixes to the system will cost taxpayers $1.5 billion and take 15 years to rebuild pipes, pumps, and sewage treatment plants that in some cases are almost 100 years old.
Among the biggest fixes is a $550 million reconstruction of the wastewater treatment plant on Virginia Key. Another $408 million is penciled in for replacing and rehabbing the county's 1,035 pump stations and miles of transmission lines that run to and from the plants.
In the meantime, nature lovers such as Kolson are stuck trying to enjoy a natural wonderland tainted by human waste. Since her leg infection, she's had to "avoid direct contact with the water" — a restriction that has obviously put a damper on her boating.
A spokesperson from Miami-Dade's Water and Sewer Department declined to comment on her affidavit, citing the open litigation.