Environmentalists Sue to Block $1.5 Billion Plan to Fix Miami's Sewers

This much is clear: Miami's sewers are deteriorating, and millions of gallons of wastewater are polluting Biscayne Bay. The county has proposed a $1.5 billion fix, but one local environmental group has now filed suit in federal court to stop the plan.

Key Biscayne resident Judi Koslen and the environmental group Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper Inc. say the plan fails to address future sea-level rises that could damage the sewage treatment plant on Virginia Key.

See also:
- Key Biscayne Woman Accuses Miami-Dade County of Infecting Her With Poop Water

"Our primary goal is to bring an end to the regular discharges of sewage into Miami-Dade's waterways and streets," says Paul Schwiep, an attorney representing Koslen and the environmental group. "We're tired of the regular beach closings and no-swim warnings, which are the result of postponing infrastructure, operations, and maintenance investments that are long overdue."

A Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department said the county doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The complaint asks U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to the declare that the county is violating two state and federal consent decrees that required Miami-Dade to fix the water and sewer system almost a decade ago.

County officials have ignored fixing the aging water and sewer system for so long it'll now 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.

One of the largest repair jobs involves a $550 million reconstruction of the controversial 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. The lawsuit claims the plan is "facially ineffective, unfair, unreasonable, and not in the public interest."

However, Altonaga temporarily put the Waterkeeper lawsuit on hold pending the outcome of a separate lawsuit against the county filed by the state and federal environmental protection agencies last year. In January, Koslen and the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper filed a motion to be added as plaintiffs to that lawsuit.

Still, the new complaint makes some eye-popping accusations against Miami-Dade County:

  • For at least the past five years and continuing to the present day, the county has discharged raw, untreated sewage into the ocean, Biscayne Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway, and other surface waters, as well as onto public and private property from more than 260 sewage overflows.
  • Miami-Dade government continually raided the water and sewer budget, transferring more than $200 million to the county's general revenue fund to accomplish other objectives. As a result of these large withdrawals of water and sewer revenues by the county, the Water and Sewer Department was unable to maintain its compliance with the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.
  • More than 47 million gallons of untreated human sewage has been illegally discharged into Miami-Dade County waterways and streets between 2009 and 2011.

That's a lot of poop water.

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.