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Front Page » Top Stories » County Office Seeks State Funding For Stalled River Dredging

County Office Seeks State Funding For Stalled River Dredging

Written by on August 23, 2007

By Eric Kalis
Miami-Dade’s Department of Environmental Resources Management is asking the state to fund a shortfall in the stalled $74 million Miami River dredging, department officials say.

Instead of waiting for appropriations from the state during next spring’s legislative session, department officials applied last month for the state to include up to $10 million in the 2008 budget to finish the final three sections of the 15-phase project, said department director Carlos Espinosa at last week’s Miami River Commission Dredging Working Group meeting. A contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers completed six dredging sections before stopping in late 2005 after funds were depleted.

Even if state legislators deny the county’s full request, said river commission executive director Brett Bibeau, securing at least a share of the funding shortfall would increase chances of receiving another state appropriation at the 2008 session.

"If we can get $5 million-$10 million in October, we will be in great shape come next session," Mr. Bibeau said. "If we are zeroed out [from the budget], it will be an uphill struggle to get anything next session."

River officials have asked for contributions of $3 million each from the South Florida Water Management District, City of Miami, county and Florida Inland Navigational District. The appropriations would help cover the unpaid portion of the federal government’s $26 million share, but the local entities have no guarantees of being reimbursed. The government agencies would instead seek future federal appropriations for the river, Mr. Bibeau said.

Army corps officials are exploring whether the river would be eligible for a federal Economic Development Administration grant of up to $4 million, Mr. Perez said. Federal law prevents using the grant to augment congressional appropriations, he said, so the corps must make sure the river dredging fits the criteria. The corps is not under a set deadline to apply for the grant, which has a rolling application cycle.

While river officials sort out dredging funding issues, contractors Bean Environmental and Weston Solutions have asked the corps to delay restarting the project until late November. The contractors cited an eight-week timeline to ship the Boskalis sediment processing plant used for the first six dredging sections from Belgium and a lingering seawall repair project to be completed by AME Shipping as reasons for the delay request. Corps officials continue to review the request but have not made a decision, Mr. Perez said.

Resuming dredging in November would not prevent the contractors from finishing before the corps’ contract expires in April, river officials say. Finding enough funding for the final three phases is the main roadblock. The current contract is based on 2004 prices per cubic yard removed, river officials say, and if the contract expires a new deal would be much more expensive.

Project proponents say completing the project would result in a cargo trade boom, commercial and residential development and 350 jobs at the Merrill-Stevens ship-repair yard Advertisement