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Front Page » Top Stories » River Dredging Next Needs County Pact For Land Parcel

River Dredging Next Needs County Pact For Land Parcel

Written by on June 8, 2000

By Candi Calkins
To start dredging the Miami River by mid-2001, says Jerry Scarborough, project manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers, a sponsorship agreement with Miami-Dade County must be in place by August.

Now that the Miami River Commission has won local funding from the state, county and City of Miami for the project, officials are focusing on the next hurdle facing the $80 million job. Before design work and permit applications can proceed, Army Corps officials say, the county — as project sponsor — must make available at least 10 acres within one mile of the river.

The land is used to dry dredged material before it is trucked to landfills. "Without the lands we can’t move forward," Mr. Scarborough said.

Roger Hernstadt, capital improvements coordinator for Miami-Dade County, said two county real estate departments are looking at available properties in the heavily developed areas surrounding the Miami River. He said he is optimistic about the prospect of using land purchased by the Florida Department of Transportation for an intermodal transportation center. However, he said, state officials are concerned that the dredging not interfere with construction plans.

"We’re looking at all available options to try to resolve this as quickly as possible," Mr. Hernstadt said. "It’s a priority for us. Once it became known that the river was likely to be dredged, things there in terms of development and speculation have picked up interest. It’s not easy to find a 10-acre parcel that fits our needs."

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection requires the land as a condition to issue a dredging permit, said David Miller, executive director of the Miami River Commission.

After securing the 10 acres, the Army Corps will ask the state for water quality certification, a permit required by the Clean Water Act, said environmental attorney Scott Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell said the dredging creates few environmental issues. Due to past alterations, the river is little more than a canal, he said.

Environmental regulators will be concerned about the river’s effect on the Biscayne Bay aquatic preserve. To get a dredging permit, the Army Corps must convince regulators that dredging will clean up the river.

"We’re not making it worse," Mr. Mitchell said. "Certification should not be a bar."

Once a sponsorship agreement is final, Mr. Scarborough said the Army Corps will request contract proposals. He said he hopes to advertise the project by February 2001, with dredging to begin by mid-year.

Although dredging could interrupt river traffic, Mr. Scarborough said the Army Corps will work with the Coast Guard and the shipping community to coordinate bridge closings. He said bridges would not be closed for more than a few hours, probably during late night hours.

Meanwhile, the Miami River Commission is focusing on lobbying for a $5.7 million federal appropriation included in a water-and-energy bill that is part of a 2001 budget now being assembled by Congress. The appropriation, which must be approved by the president, would become available after Oct. 1.

Mr. Miller said the government already has appropriated $5 million for dredging in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The federal government last year committed to pay 80% of costs for the five-year project. Mr. Miller said Miami River Commission members have visited Washington to met with local senators and representatives to secure project support.

"We’re at the point where we really need to determine the piece of property that will be utilized for the dredging operation," Mr. Miller said. "Everything else — the funding, the political support — everything is ready to go once we determine the location."