Miami looks for Environmental Resource Management department to simplify permitting process
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Miami officials say they are working to get the county's environmental resource management department to streamline fees it charges Miami businesses, which a city commissioner says is imposing a burden on local businesses.
But Environmental Resource Management Director Carlos Espinosa said Tuesday that the city had not contacted his department about reviews or changes.
"I haven't been approached by anyone," he said.
The department is responsible for regulating and managing residential and commercial activities countywide that affect the environment.
City Manager Pete Hernandez handed commissioners a memorandum last Thursday — the morning of a commission meeting — updating them on efforts the city staff was making with the county agency to simplify its permitting process.
Calls to Orlando Toledo, the city official who presented commissioners the update at the meeting, to clarify why the report given to city commissioners does not jibe with Mr. Espinosa's report were not returned.
Chairman Joe Sanchez first asked the city in late February to approach the county's environmental resource management department.
He said city-based business owners constantly call his office saying the county department is charging them unnecessary fees.
At last week's commissioner meeting, Mr. Sanchez said there was no reason for a small business opening in the city that does not use water or threatens to contaminate the environment to go through the environmental resource management department.
"Is a long and burdensome process for small businesses," he said, adding that it threatens to drive businesses out of the city.
At the meeting, Mr. Toledo, senior director of building, planning, and zoning, clarified to the commission that the permit requirements apply not only to the city but countywide.
In his update to the commission, Mr. Toledo said the county department had provided the city a list of uses it would allow the city's zoning department to review and send back to the county for its approval.
He said this will help the county's environmental management department expedite permitting for business owners and, for some, require a one-time visit to the department.
Mr. Espinosa, who said he hadn't been approached by the city, responded that a federal court order regulates sewer connections in the county and requires new businesses to go through the department to determine water and sewer flow requirements. He added that the fee for the commercial sewer capacity evaluation is $120.
Mr. Espinosa said a number of businesses have to go through his department and the county's Department of Water & Sewer regarding sewer connections, especially when a business expands or changes ownership because water and sewer flow requirements may change.
He said another common fee businesses are charged is for an asbestos survey when doing construction, which he said is also federally-mandated because of the health risks asbestos can pose. The asbestos survey fee ranges from $250 to $500.
If businesses don't require the environmental resource management department's approval, then he said "they are signed off."
The department's 48-page fee schedule, available on its Web site, lists the fees specific work requires.
"We try to keep those fees reasonable," he said, "but they are needed."
Mr. Toledo told commissioners the city is going to address similar concerns regarding fees with the county's water and sewer department.
Mr. Sanchez charged that what the water and sewer department was doing to large and small businesses in the city was "criminal." He cited such policies as requiring new business owners to change pipelines, which can be very expensive.
He warned that if city staff cannot reach an agreement with Miami-Dade's environmental resource management, the city should take legal action because the fees are burdensome to new businesses.
Mr. Sanchez said he, too, would meet directly with County Manager George Burgess and the county department to discuss the issue.
Mr. Espinosa said he plans to reach out to the city after learning of the city commissioners' concerns.
"We are willing to do what ever we can to work with the city and minimize the effect on businesses."