Virginia Key Landfill Fix Delayed By Politics: Blood, Sewage, and Chemicals Still Leach into Bay
By Michael Miller Mon., Dec. 19 2011 at 8:00 AM Miami New Times
A blood pump in Virginia Key Landfill, 1976
Twisted metal. Bags of blood. Broken needles. Human excrement. Mysterious orange drums full of God-knows-what.
Like a giant shit-filled anniversary cake, the Virginia Key landfill has been stuffed full of the nastiest crap Miami has to offer. The dump has been boiling, belching, and burning for 50 years.
But instead of finally cleaning it up with millions already sitting around in the bank, city and county officials are too busy bickering over the terms of — what else? — a new waste management contract.
Miami-Dade County raised $46 million from bond sales six years ago to begin a cleanup, but officials admitted last week that they won’t release the money until the city signs a lucrative new trash contract. Environmentalists are crying foul.
“This is a toxic dump site,” says Alexis Segal from the clean-water advocacy group Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “It leaches horrible things into swimming water adjacent to several highly used public beaches. It should have been moved up on the priority list decades ago.”
City and county officials, naturally, blame one another.
Sewage pouring into the landfill, 1976
The county’s Department of Solid Waste Management says it needs a new city trash agreement to pay off bond interest before releasing cleanup cash. “As a condition of receiving the $46 million landfill grant, the County is insisting that the City extend its waste disposal… agreement,” the department said in an email to Riptide.
But Alice Bravo, Miami’s assistant city manager, says that’s nonsense. “It was their study that identified issues with the landfill and it was their vision to [fix] it,” she says. “I don’t know why you would identify a need and then make it so difficult to resolve it.”
County Commissioner Xavier Suarez has tried to play the adult, suggesting a compromise on a new ten-year waste contract that would kick-start landfill cleanup. So far he’s gotten nowhere, although he says he’s scheduled to meet with the mayor this week to discuss the disastrous dump delay.
Meanwhile, just last week beaches were closed in nearby Crandon Park because of toxic bacteria floating in the water.
“I share the impatience,” Suarez says. “It’s a gorgeous island. The fish used to practically jump into your boat.”
These days, not so much.
A fire at the landfill, 1976
Barrels of dichloride herbicide left at the Virginia Key landfill
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Virginia Key, Virginia Key landfill
Where is the state attorney in Marlins stadium fiasco?
By Michael Lewis
The most distressing aspect of the US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the Marlins ballpark fiasco is that it’s the only investigation.
Also distressing is that many who saddled taxpayers with the worst government giveaway ever here, all $3 billion of it, left office before a probe began, forcing successors to battle the fallout.
It’s unfortunate that it’s only securities investigators because their hunt is tightly focused yet may take years. Even if they file no charges, many illegal acts that might be involved don’t fall in their jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the publicly funded stadium opens in 3½ months under a cloud as more and more of the deal’s pitfalls get wide attention.
Despite seeking voluminous data, federal investigators target only misdeeds that affect buyers of city and county bonds issued to support a stadium deal that robbed the public blind.
Their job is to protect nobody else — certainly not commissioners who were misled in voting.
Federal investigators might not care what went on in one-on-one meetings of Marlins and Major League Baseball officials, the county manager, and city and county commissioners if securities laws weren’t broken.
Somehow, most elected officials were persuaded to approve a deal so lopsided that it couldn’t have been mere incompetence or indifference. But unless it involves securities law, federal investigators won’t tell us what they find.
The investigators might not be concerned, either, why commissioners who the night of a bond vote repeatedly asked county manager George Burgess the cost of repayment were never told.
Investigators might not care why Mr. Burgess told commissioners they already had the number, then admitted days after commissioners approved bonds costing well over $2 billion that, no, he hadn’t sent them data after all.
The investigators might not care that Mr. Burgess, whose specialty is finance, never used the word “billion” as commissioners sought a cost. They voted without a price tag.
Federal investigators also might not worry about balloon payments on those bonds — one $91 million issue alone will cost 14 times its value to repay — that imperil county operating funds.
Mr. Burgess sold a deal funded by tourist tax receipts, saying repeatedly that operating funds were exempt. But — surprise — if tourist taxes fall short, bondholders are pledged operating funds.
A shortfall is likely. Even bond raters the county paid, Standard & Poor’s, reported “the backloaded debt service schedule requires revenue growth to continue at a strong compounded pace of 3%-5% beginning in 2011 without interruption for 40 years, which we believe is unlikely.”
That might not concern securities investigators, because general revenue can pay bondholders if tourist tax revenues can’t. But it should pain taxpayers whose bills would soar to fund those payments.
No, federal probers don’t represent misled elected officials, those who pay taxes or voters who got no say whether the county should sell its soul for no payback to support the Marlins owners, whose names government wasn’t told and whose finances government never checked.
The investigators also mightn’t care why county mayor Carlos Alvarez, Miami mayor Manny Diaz and county manager Burgess, all now gone, pushed through this outrageous deal in 2009, or why both city and county commissioners, some now gone, mortgaged our future for it.
Unless illegal acts affect bondholders, they’re not in federal investigators’ jurisdiction.
But every bit of this deal, who supported it and why is in the jurisdiction of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Smoking guns are everywhere.
The only issue is whether those guns were fired illegally.
It’s a question the state attorney should have probed long ago, but it’s not too late to start. The securities investigators are gathering data that would aid a
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local investigation, one with far broader targets.
When smoking guns are everywhere, why is the securities commission the Lone Ranger?
It’s distressing that a local investigation hasn’t begun. If, as is possible, there were no payoffs, no illegal promises, no crimes, a thorough probe would dispel lingering suspicions that certainly aided the vote to recall Mayor Alvarez.
And, if there were crimes — well, isn’t that what the state attorney’s office is supposed to be hunting for?
Support builds to revamp Miami Beach Convention Center
By Scott Blake
Facing the prospect of giant casino resorts competing with or becoming a part of the beachside tourism industry, Miami Beach commissioners are reaffirming their opposition to gambling and pressing ahead with plans to renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center.
And they apparently have an ally in Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
In a Beacon Council forum on casino gambling Monday, Mayor Gimenez said county government’s focus should not be on gambling but on upgrading the Miami Beach Convention Center to world-class status — and he pledged to make it happen.
“That should be our number-one priority in this forum, to build a first-class convention center,” the mayor said. “I’m going to ask the Board of County Commissioners to take concrete steps to build a world-class convention center.”
During a workshop Friday, Miami Beach commissioners lamented that the county has helped fund other big projects — from the controversial deal to build Marlins Stadium to the Port of Miami tunnels — while the convention center has been largely ignored.
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez acknowledged at Friday’s workshop that Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn has expressed interest in the Miami Beach Convention Center site, but added: “I don’t think the [city] commission will consider a proposal with a casino.”
Asked Monday if a new or upgraded center would be in Miami Beach or elsewhere, Mayor Gimenez said: “My druthers is Miami Beach as the legacy convention center. My druthers is we do another at that site… so we don’t continuously lose large conventions to other destinations. One way or another, this community needs a world-class convention facility.”
The City of Miami Beach, meanwhile, is moving ahead with ideas for the convention center. “We have a consultant group working with us to develop a plan and financing model that could work with a public-private venture,” Mr. Gonzalez said Friday.
He said the city has designated 52 acres, including the convention center, for the project.
“The city will explore expanding the height limits on the site now,” Mr. Gonzalez added. “We’ve been meeting with developers and private interests who perhaps would be partners with the city. We’ve been talking with hotel operators… This will be a competitive process.”
Whatever plan emerges, he said, the public will have a say. “It will be a local referendum so residents can decide for themselves whether the project” is worth doing, he added.
Miami Beach will first seek qualifications from prospective developers, then ask them to submit designs, Mr. Gonzalez said. “We’re going to kick-start the process with the new year.”
At Monday’s forum, Mayor Gimenez cautioned the audience not to focus on the Genting Group’s proposal for a massive casino in downtown Miami.
“Genting will be only one of a dozen different proposals that comes down,” he said before launching into his proposal for county action to expand and upgrade the Miami Beach Convention Center. He gave no details of project size, financing or schedule.
Florida mega-casino bills destined to die, insiders say
By Scott Blake
So-called “destination gaming” bills before the Florida Legislature that have ignited a statewide debate on casino gambling don’t seem likely to be approved, according to officials following the legislation.
“I think most observers today think the bill will not pass,” Fausto Gomez, a lobbyist hired by Miami Beach officials to track the bill in Tallahassee, told Miami Beach city commissioners during a workshop on the issue Friday.
Mr. Gomez said the Florida Senate apparently will vote on the pending casino bill but it doesn’t seem likely at this point that the bill will come to a vote in the Florida House of Representatives.
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez said House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, was not optimistic about the bill during a recent meeting with him and Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.
Rep. Cannon “publicly hasn’t stated his position, but he certainly made me feel like the odds of the bill coming out of the House are not good,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “We understand the Senate is committed to having a vote on the floor. But, in the House, it may not even get to a floor vote.”
State Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Miami Beach Democrat, said the bill’s chances for approval will fade the longer it stays in committees without being heard by the full Senate or House membership.
“Every day that goes by without it being heard, there’s less of a chance of it being passed,” Rep. Steinberg said.
Still, the city manager said the situation could change before or during the upcoming session, which begins in January.
“This bill has a lot of money behind it,” Mr. Gonzalez said, “and bills that have a lot of money behind them have a way of working their way through the process.”
Although Gov. Rick Scott has not stated his position, several members of his cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — all have come out to oppose the bill, said Mr. Gomez, the city’s lobbyist.
In addition, Mr. Gomez said, the bill recently received “a hostile reception” in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling legislation.
As a result, state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the Fort Lauderdale Republican sponsoring the Senate bill and a member of the committee, was expected to amend the proposal, he said.
According to Mr. Gomez, the proposed changes would be to create parity on taxes and other issues between the proposed $2 billion-plus casino resorts and existing, smaller pari-mutuels; eliminate gambling at storefront Internet cafes; and increase the casino resort licensing fee to $125 million from $50 million.
“A significant amount of opposition has emerged publicly” to the bill, Mr. Gomez added. “But, obviously, saying it is not going to pass doesn’t mean that the debate [in Tallahassee] can’t go on for the next four or five months in an overheated political environment.”