Above: Aerial view of skyscrapers in Miami – which area? (Photography: Randy García)
The unchecked real estate development along the Biscayne coast in recent years has resulted in a devastating effect on the health of the bay.
To understand the magnitude of the problem, one must go back to the year 2009, when a significant zoning change called MIAMI 21 was approved, welcoming the massive construction of skyscrapers in Brickell, Downtown, Edgewater, Wynwood, and Midtown. All these neighborhoods are located around the bay.
Based on municipal data reviewed in this HUELLA ZERO investigation, since 2012, the city of Miami issued over 700 permits for new constructions in that district, resulting in the construction of thousands of residential units.
Tons of waste, construction debris, and garbage ended up polluting the bay where, according to the county, about 70,000 pounds of debris are cleaned annually.
Real estate development triggered a migration wave to these neighborhoods, which went from desolation to accommodating over 125,000 residents, out of a total of 439,000 for all of Miami, according to the latest census.
The constructions and overpopulation along the Biscayne coast have brought about a consequence that was not as pronounced in the city of Miami before: severe flooding during rains in front of luxurious apartment towers.
It’s common for the storm drains there to become clogged, as the existing drainage systems are unable to cope with the amount of water generated by intense rainfall. The contaminated waters that overflow end up mixed with toxins from fertilizers, fecal matter from septic tanks, and this infectious mixture flows into the bay.
🚨Weather Updates in Miami🚨
This week we should be prepared for record-heavy rainfall.
The @CityofMiami will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates to all residents.
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— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) April 11, 2023
During the recent floods, residents questioned the slow action of the City of Miami, to which Mayor Francis Suárez responded via Twitter that “Unfortunately, it’s not something they can resolve immediately,” but he assured that they are working to address the drainage situation.
Ernesto Cuesta, President of the BHA/Brickell Homeowners Association, represents residents of nearly 50 buildings in the area. He says they feel frustrated with the slow response of local leaders. “Unfortunately, nothing is being done to prevent pollution or improve drainage. Although voters approved bonds in 2017 to build a water containment wall for Brickell Bay and to prevent flooding of the clogged aqueducts, nothing has been done. They also haven’t planted the promised mangroves to help the environment,” he stated.
Ernesto Cuesta, President of the BHA Homeowners Association, talks about the bonds approved in 2017 to build the containment wall in the ??? area. (Video: Erika Carrillo)
Since 2017, there have been plans to build a containment wall on the Brickell seawall and another one in the area surrounding Morningside Park in northern Miami. However, none of the projects have started, and with each flood, the environmental damage expands.
The news of water overflows and the environmental disaster in the bay isn’t positive for the real estate sector, says real estate expert Carlos Gutiérrez, “Buyers who come to invest prefer a clean landscape, without foul odors, and for a unit with a bay view, you can charge 20% to 30% more than the price you would charge for a city view only. But the truth is, buyers believe that this environmental issue will be resolved.”
The new commissioner of that coastal district, Sabina Covo, told HUELLA ZERO that she became interested in the issue as soon as she took office in February. She was informed that the municipality had planned since 2017, but allegedly, there is no money, and it won’t be until 2024 that they obtain the funds to start the construction of the containment wall in Brickell, similar to the one already in place at Alice Wainwright Park.
Above: Aerial view of the containment wall at Alice Wainwright public park (Photography: Randy García)
We contacted the press department of the Mayor of the City of Miami, Francis Suárez, but did not receive a response at the close of this investigation.
Commissioner Covo has committed to working on reducing construction waste, stating, “They clog pipes and release pollution that affects Biscayne’s flora and fauna. We can mitigate this by asking developers, how are we going to handle this and where is the infrastructure for improvement? Because the reality is that the city grew inadequately, without an environmental impact plan, and no report was ever made.”
Covo has already requested the hiring of a private company to clean and unclog pipes in her District 2 as part of a proactive plan, now that the rainy and hurricane season is beginning.
Meanwhile, the county is also leading an investment of nearly one billion dollars in sewer cleaning and improvement since Daniella Levine Cava took office as mayor in 2020. “It’s the largest investment in the history of Florida, and we’re moving as fast as we can,” she stated.
Above: Mayor Daniella Levine Cava during the Baynanza 2023 Cleanup Day (Photograph: Randy García)
The mayor emphasized the importance of using the funds from the bonds approved by the voters in 2017, urging to maintain the pressure and move in that direction. “We have to ensure that the municipalities speed up the pace of work, especially the city of Miami because the problem is worse there. They have the money from the bonds approved by the voters in 2017, they have to use it, and we must continue moving forward with that pressure,” the mayor stated.
Part of her mayoral campaign platform included environmental issues, and when the disaster occurred with the death of thousands of fish in 2020, Levine Cava was the one who proposed the creation of the Office for Bay Protection.
Irela Bagué, the first director of that agency created in 2021, acknowledges that one of the major contributors to pollution in Biscayne is undoubtedly the amount of sediment and debris from construction. Above: Mayor Daniella Levine Cava during the Baynanza 2023 Cleanup Day (Photograph: Randy García)
As a short-term measure, the county has already ordered the cleaning of sewers and drains once a year, instead of every three or five as it had been done before. “We need to find funds to clean these systems, and we are trying to incorporate quick solutions. They are not too difficult to implement, but there has to be a collective effort with the municipalities,” Bagué said.
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