$190 million utility tunnel to accompany Port of Miami dredging on hold due to time constraints
By Risa Polansky
Plans for a $190 million Miami-Dade Water and Sewer project are washed up after officials decided they couldn't build the "utility tunnel" in time for the Port of Miami dredging project they said earlier this month necessitated it.
A scaled-down, $42 million pipe relocation is on tap in place of the complex tunnel construction.
To accommodate planned dredging to allow some of the world's largest cargo ships access to the local seaport, the county Water and Sewer Department must move a wastewater main that runs through Government Cut, the shipping channel between Miami Beach and Fisher Island.
The idea was not to simply move the pipe, but to build a tunnel that would supplant it as well as increase the system's capacity and replace aging infrastructure.
That project was to cost about $190 million — $10 million more than the $180 million dredging that's displacing the pipe in the first place.
The utility tunnel would have had to be complete by August 2012 to allow for the dredging.
Now, the tunnel project is on hold, and the plan instead is to simply move the obstructive wastewater line at a cost of about $42 million.
"After careful review of the time-constraints with this [tunnel] project, the Department has determined that a different installation option will be pursued…. At this time, only the portion of the pipeline crossing the Government Cut Channel that conflicts with the dredging project will be relocated," said Ed Vega, Water and Sewer assistant director for engineering and capital improvements, in a Dec. 9 e-mail to county and Miami Beach officials.
Beach officials and residents have been inundating the county with questions about the now-paused tunnel project, which would have involved some construction on Miami Beach's southern end as well as on Fisher Island.
The new plan — relocating the obstructing main alone — "can be done by working from barges directly in Government Cut," Mr. Vega assured officials in his letter.
But Beach stakeholders' concerns had nothing "whatsoever" to do with the change in plans, he said via e-mail Monday, reiterating that it's simply time constraints that have put the utility tunnel on hold.
Instead, the department is to in summer 2011 begin a year's worth of work to relocate the main that's in the way of the planned dredging.
"We will continue to pursue the Utility Tunnel implementation but after relocating the 54-inch force main within the Channel," Mr. Vega said.
The utility tunnel, 12 feet in diameter, is designed to hold three wastewater lines and a reclaimed water main, along with other utilities such as cable lines.
Also included in the $190 million project budget was a "micro-tunnel" housing water mains from Fisher Island, as well as a reclaimed water pipe.
"There is not a specific timeline for pursuing the tunnel but [it] definitely will continue to be part of our plans," he said.
The Water and Sewer Department is to use bonds to fund the less-involved pipe relocation.
Users pay the fees that back water and sewer bonds.
In part to fund the department's capital program, county commissioners agreed to a 6% fee increase in October, with another 6% hike to kick in this coming April.
The plan is to in spring go out for about $500 million in new bond money for a variety of multi-year projects, said Diane Camacho, Water and Sewer's assistant director for finance, in an interview this month.
User fee-backed bonds would have covered part of the utility tunnel's $190 million price tag and developer impact fees the rest.
The breakdown was undecided before officials pulled back on the project.
The Water and Sewer Department would have covered the costs for the tunnel and is footing the bill for the pipe relocation, though the port dredging necessitates the project because the impeding infrastructure runs through Government Cut by permit, not right.