Richard Conlin woke up to the clatter of construction Wednesday. He lives in Southgate Towers at Tenth Street and West Avenue. From his window nine stories up, he scanned Biscayne Bay and saw a sight he says has become all too familiar: the sheen of an oil slick trailing from the recently installed anti-flooding pumps.
Conlin, a realtor and personal trainer, has lived in Miami Beach for 27 years and says he’s never seen the bay so polluted before. Since October, Conlin has been filming what he believes to be pollution seeping from the pumps into the bay. He wasn’t sure what to do with the footage at first. Then,a friend referred him to Clean Up Miami Beach, a Facebook group where more than 1,700 Miami Beach residents share photos and videos, working together to report pollution to the proper authorities. Conlin has been posting videos of the pumps near his building since January.
But Wednesday morning, as Conlin was panning his iPhone to film the latest dark, glistening slick, he landed on something even more egregious: four construction workers on a barge outside his building sweeping debris into the bay. He kept the camera rolling.
"You see, we've been having trouble with the pumps. That's what started it. Then I saw the workers on the barge doing this and started filming that," Conlin tells New Times. "You can only film one thing at a time. It was quite an eventful morning!"
Conlin posted the video on the group's Facebook page and also sent it to Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco. It wasn’t the first time. Conlin usually sends the commissioner photos and videos, and then Grieco and Conlin work together. "Richard is my eyes and ears on the ground," Grieco tells New Times.
But of all the videos Conlin has sent the commissioner, this one was among the more disturbing. "Any time someone is putting anything into the bay, they are guilty until proven innocent. Even if it is sand or other organic material, putting it into the bay disrupts that ecosystem," Grieco explains. "That's why you need to contact DERM, the Coast Guard, and the City of Miami Beach before.”
By 11 a.m., the Coast Guard was alerted. Construction stopped on the barge. According to Conlin, at least two Coast Guard members arrived and spoke to the barge's foreman, who denied the allegations and blamed it on the nearby pumps. "The guy from the Coast Guard was animated and pointing at the foreman, telling him: ‘We have the freaking video,'" Conlin recalls.
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It’s unclear who manages the barge workers. Conlin’s building, Southgate Towers, is owned by Gumenick Properties, a group based in Virginia. According to Ed Crews, a spokesperson for Gumenick Properties, a marina is being built behind the building, and that's why the barge is there. But, Crews points out, Gumenick Properties hired a general contractor for the construction, who to the best of Crews' knowledge, then subcontracted the work on the barge.
"No one that I've spoken to in the company has any idea who owns the barge," Crews tells New Times. "This is the first time we’ve seen this, and we're trying to understand what is going on and what is happening in the video and relay through the general contractor to be good stewards of the environment. Gumenick Properties has made a home in Miami Beach since the 1960s, and we'll do whatever we have to do to make things right."
In the meantime, Conlin vows to continue recording. Inside the Clean Up Miami Beach Facebook group, amid all the outraged comments calling the act "unacceptable" and "awful," Conlin has become something of a hero.
"Richard, great work being vigilant and protective of your community!" a member commented. "Thank you."