Saturday, March 10, 2007

Must Read: Herald made a few mistakes on this Geniusofdespair

In the article today MIAMI-DADE COUNTY Dade manager: Tax cuts would hurt the Columnists used North Miami as an example of a typical city. Wrong and BAD example Herald. You can’t compare apples to oranges. This city is in a tangled web over the Biscayne Landing (former Munisport uregulated dump) development. Between the funding of the former superfund site cleanup and the affordable housing the developer promised at Biscayne Landing....and then moved elsewhere in the city, you can't compute numbers. By the way, if you put ALL your affordable housing in one area, are you not creating something very different?

The developer, within the bid, was suppose to pay for the former superfund cleanup -- that is what I heard at a meeting eons ago -- but somehow a lot of the cost morphed back on us, the taxpayers of the county. And what has been cleaned up at the former unregulated dump-superfund site, Munisport, anyway? (press read more)

A brief History:

I am not going to even touch on the CRA district and affordable housing. That is too big a nut. Here is the other 1/2 of the story.

City of North Miami and our always dependable (ick) County entered into an agreement involving a 20 million dollar grant from the county paid for by a solid waste department bond issue. (Those bond issues always should be looked at people).

Under the agreement, City of North Miami would receive 1 million dollars each year to assist in Munisport remediation and closure efforts. This was known to the all the developers who bid on the project: That this money was coming. They bid accordingly, knowing they might have to shoulder more cleanup costs.

This is what the bidders did NOT know: Much more money for cleanup would be coming. How do I know this? I called one of the losing bidders and asked him. Had he known this, he said, his bid would have changed, however, that is water under the bridge.

In January 2004, the City Commission agreed to enter into a NEW agreement with the County to accept 49 million dollars, instead of of the 20 million already agreed on, which was to be used to clean up the landfill. With lots of lawyers involved, the new agreement would supercede the previous one. Rather than one million a year, the city would receive 3.6 million for the first 12 years. Some of that money was earmarked: Virginia Key was in line for that money and so was a Homestead dumpsite. Some sort of deal was ironed out between all the parties. I had called Homestead City Manager and County Commissioner Jimmy Morales (Virginia Key) at the time and they both raised hell for awhile. Then silence. A deal was struck of some sort.

Speaking of Hell, oh Hell, here is some more history:

In January 1998, there was a consent agreement between the City of North Miami, owner of the Munisport Landfill and County Dept. of Resource Management -DERM (left with cleanup oversight responsibilities after years of bitter fighting between government agencies at National, State and County levels and environmentalists). The consent agreement was executed after the site was removed from the Superfund list, under protest by the environmentalists. The delisting was a mistake in my view.

Everyone did agree on one thing: There is a extensive leachate plume from the landfill that has been impacting the groundwater and surrounding area for many years.

The consent agreement required the City of North Miami to properly close the landfill, they were suppose to remediate contaminated ground and surface waters, to restore the wetlands adjacent to the landfill and prevent further migration of contaminated groundwater from underneath the landfill to the ground and surface waters and to our beloved Biscayne Bay. Better than nothing.

The consent decree had strict timetables. DERM: HAVE YOU CLEANED ANY WATER YET? I notice the condos are nearing completion there. And now they are building townhouses? DERM is it safe for people to dig around in the garden?

Here are my questions Miami Herald. Has anyone ever before started to build residential condos on top of a former Superfund site before it has been cleaned up? Has any remediation even been started? And, why have you avoided looking into this story? Advertising revenues perhaps? I digress.

DERM had approved a very involved cleanup but the Developers had other ideas.

Rather than use part of the site dedicated for the cleanup (there is a lot of apparatus necessary to clean this much water), the developer and his host of lawyers talked County and City officials into a better and faster way to clean up the landfill. They wanted to use an experimental method!

The idea was to inject air into the groundwater and also sugar as part of an in-situ bioremediation involving microbial conversion of the ammonia through a two step metabolic process. I heard Clifford Schulman, help pitch the idea at a meeting. The pitch to test the technology was sold under the theory that it couldn’t hurt to try it as long as the City and developer agreed to implement the originally approved system if they failed to demonstrate adequate performance after a specified time. The environmentalists banded together to ask questions about the cleanup and express their concern. What is going on with this experimental cleanup? I remember in 2004, DERM was not forthcoming with documents on the “Successful” cleanup -- using this method -- at an airport somewhere.

During the technology test time period, the timetables to construct the conventional, already approved groundwater cleanup system were held off.

Here is where I lost track - too much to cover. Did the experiment work DERM? What happened to your strict timetable? Where is all the money? Do we get back the $49,000,000 if the city/developer doesn’t use it for cleanup?

To conclude: Apples and oranges Herald.
P.S. Looks like someone is well protected from environmental claims, from the Swerdlow bail out mortgage (Hit on it to make it larger):


Anonymous said...

The original developer, Swerdlow, after making promise after promise to North Miami, decided last year to try to sell the development, even though the contract required otherwise.

North Miami Resident: said...

The conversion to townhomes also concerns me.

Can they do that?

Also, is the site clean now or isn't it? What happened to all the stuff in the dirt that was solid and all the chemicals they found years ago? Did it all just disappear? I have followed Munisport for years and it looks like it was swept under the rug by everyone. Did they ever cap the site with plastic or anything?

Anonymous said...

As Bruce Gibson said in the Keystone Point Newsletter on North Miami CRA:
In the first 7 months, the CRA Board has put forward only one substantive project – Affordable Housing at Ruck’s Park.
On the face of it, this seems worthwhile. However, the details reveal many problems in what has become a how-to clinic in “what
not to do” in real estate development.

Members of the CRA Board have promised unrealistic time frames and there are numerous flaws in the site. A large easement
runs through the property making site planning difficult and more expensive. Substantial fill and grading is required, adding significantly to the cost. A pool and numerous elevators in the current design make for a maintenance nightmare and will dramatically increase operating costs for years to come. This means higher homeowners fees, which results in higher default rates. Only families making about $50,000 a year will be able to purchase these homes.

This makes no sense given the average household in North Miami makes less than $30,000.

Anonymous said...

swerdlow is no longer part of the deal...he sold his share out to his partner boca developers

Anonymous said...

and....took this off Swerdlow Group website:
Biscayne Landing
North Miami, FL
190 Acres Commenced in 2004 Residential
Over $2 Billion

Anonymous said...

There should be a criminal statute attached to development permits, in the name of the original permittee, that are granted as "public benefits" to mitigate toxic sites or wetlands: all the holier-than-thou's from lobbyist lawyers on mitigation "banking" and clean-ups like Munisport is revolting, when it turns out to be just another real estate flipping scam that makes millions for a few people and puts unsuspecting buyers directly in harm's way.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, all...but where were all you people when the deals were coming down under the Celestin regime? We're now stepping through the mine fields laid out by the mismanagement (perhaps corruption) of the former administration. Let's get real people...the politics of race and class have and are still playing out here. Which makes the "dance" all that more difficult. Swerdlow mentioned "social engineering" more than once. And yes, there have been developments built elsewhere in the country on former landfills. It's easy to take potshots from the
sidelines. Get in the game. Life is risky...get over it.

glass-half-full said...

re: Rucks Park (aka Pioneer Gardens), an alternative to traditional construction (brick and mortar) is currently being looked at. Anyone with half a brain knows the numbers don't work for affordable housing at PG. They never did. (Probably why the NM Housing shareholders with their 15% kick back like it so much!). So, it's time again to think outside the box and examine all the different housing options. I agree that it's easy to point fingers. My philosophy is: When you complain and criticize, please have the character and decency to offer up potential solutions, too.
Otherwise, you risk coming off as arrogant and snug. Have a nice day...p.s. nice blog

Genius of Despair said...

one anonymous said:

And yes, there have been developments built elsewhere in the country on former landfills.
My question: weren't the sites you mentioned cleaned up BEFORE the building was started? This site, as far as I know, has finished/amost finished buildings on it -- without the cleanup FIRST. That is where the problem is. The city is opening itself up to mega lawsuits from buyers, you can be sure the lawyers protected the developer.

Genius of Despair said...

to glass half full:

My only complaint about the affordable housing is: when the project was developed it was suppose to be inclusive of people from different income brackets -- affordable housing WITHIN Biscayne Landing. Isn't that what every cities' master (comp) plan calls for???? The developer bid on that concept. I think the developer then changed his mind, harder to market high priced condos with affordable mixed in. The affordable component was REMOVED from the project to be built elsewhere in the city. I think that was a mistake. And 1/2 full I have the solution to my complaint; do it the way it was bid and originally proposed.

Anonymous said...

Re: taxes and the growing budget...

Of course, the budget grew, it costs $$$$ to support the tax base that gave the county; city; state all the money.

New residents + new home ownership = more money for government + greater needs for services provided to new residents in previously unserved area. Opps...that is the problem with spawl... You make more as a government and it costs you more than you make.

Glass-half-full said...

The deal w/BL in regard to the affordable housing element (unit-for-unit) was forged under Celestin Regime. The size of BL increased from 2400 units to 4800 units with the passing of a Referendum to allow "two 25-story hi-rise condos" on the BL site. Little did we naive voters know that the vagueness of the referendum language would allow for MULTIPLE hi-rise bldgs. Blynn loved that! The Council (Celestin Regime) then UNANAMIOUSLY voted to increase the units to 6000! The politicians never wanted affordable housing in BL. NM Housing LTD was created solely to build the affordable units. Celestin loved that! That would make the shareholders (look them up on of NM Housing very wealthy, indeed! I agree that marketing million dollar condos with affordable housing next door would be difficult - at best. But moving the affordable housing units elsewhere THROUGHOUT the city was endorsed by the LAST Mayor and Council. I was there...I saw it play out. Many questions were asked but few answers were given. In fact, the last Mayor behaved more like a Monarch and squashed freedom of speech whenever he could. Which was A LOT! As for the Developer Devil...they are all alike. The bottom line ($$$) is all they are concerned with. The citizens main defense from these ruthless individuals comes from ELECTED OFFICIALS. We are now living with the Celestin Regime legacy. We need to find a way to navigate the treacherous political mine field left in their wake. Ugh! Politics sucks.

Genius of Despair said...

i wend to the bidding meetings. Affordable Housing was part of the deal -- within Biscayne Landing proper at the beginning. Don't know when it changed, but it was a part of what the developers bid on.

I remember because I thought it was a good idea.

glass-half-full said...

G.O.D (sorry, I couldn't resist) wrote: Affordable Housing was part of the deal -- within Biscayne Landing proper at the beginning. Don't know when it changed,

I was there, too. And yes, it was. It changed during all the deal making under Celestin's watch. The blame lies with that administration. Untangling this mess is extremely difficult. It would require the current (and future) Council demonstrating the courage to correct the distortion of the original deal.
I'm not sure that will ever happen. My feeling is that this project will morph continuously over its lifetime.

Anonymous said...

jus got turnd onto this blog. BL is ncessary for NMs future. nothings prefect. this dvlpmt isnt riddld w/as mch corrption as many others. safe to live thre? if derm signs off & its not...sue the county. who i sue for all the othr pollunts in the envrnment? Exxon, Ford??? cant wrry abt evrthg...wuld nver sleep

Anonymous said...

Swerdlow made many personal promises throughout the negotiations of the agreement. Many of those promises were not specifically written into the agreement, being in essence a call to trust in his business acumen and commitment to building a successful($)project. He was a big strong developer who would bring salvation to North Miami and cure all our ills. Oh, and by the way here are my development partners Boca Developers. Along came an election cycle changing the make up of the coucil and VOILA! Swerdlow and Boca had a falling out and Boca Developers bought him out of the partnership, effectively negating those. (instead of taking cash for the buy out he's going to hold the mortgage, so if they succeed he gets paid and if they don't he takes title, while taking the onus off himself, sweet huh?) The development is planned to be completed in phases. The first phase (the towers you can see),was built on the cleanest(?)area, I believe that's how the mitigation has been circumvented. Boca Dev. has come back to the city council at least twice to substantively change both the financing and site plan. The council, instead of using this opportunity to make a better deal for the citizens, has acceded to their wishes. From what I understand, anytime you make substantive changes to an agreement, BOTH sides have the ability to create new conditions and/or scrap old ones. The 15% guaranteed profit for/and exclusive use of NorthMiamiHousing for the affordable housing is a glaring example of what should be renegotiated. Otis Pitts of NorthMiamiHousing refused to divulge who the other shareholders are (Masvidal, anyone?) and the development of Ruck's Park/Pioneer Gardens is an ongoing boondoggle. Churning of the pre-construction costs continues apace. I believe we're on the third set of plans for a project that will be ultimately un-affordable. And don't get me started on the Library/Olympic training center part!!!

Genius of Despair said...

Make sure you all read my new post:
Sunday, March 11, 2007
North Miami: Now it is getting creepy! By geniusofdespair

Anonymous said...

People are getting ready to move in. Children are at school down the road. What is happening with the County? Why is DERM permitting this to move forward? Aren't they liable if they sign off on the clean-up and the job doesn't get done? Are our Commissioners pressuring DERM to move forward? We, the residents of North Miami, are on the hook, not the developers? Haven't we spent enough on Munisport (without any return)? What happened to Swerdlow actually paying for the clean-up?

Genius of Despair said...

I found the letter written by environmental groups in August 2004:

Dear Sirs and Madam:

As you are surely aware, the city of North Miami has partnered with a development company to construct up to 6,000 residential units on the former Munisport Landfill, a previously-designated Superfund site in Northeast Miami-Dade County. In our estimation, that could mean that up to 15,000 men, women, and children will be living on top of a dump that was not adequately regulated or supervised.

We understand the city's desire for urban renewal and growth; however, we have some questions concerning the adequacy of the cleanup and the development of the site as it is proposed. Our questions are meant to elicit responses that may address our safety concerns for the thousands of people expected to reside there and the hundreds of children expected to attend educational facilities there. We are also seeking answers to questions that will address our concerns for the environmental integrity of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve (BBAP), the Oleta River State Recreational Area (ORSRA), surrounding coastal wetlands and mangrove forests, and the area’s soil, groundwater and surface water resources.

Specifically, we are seeking the answers to the following questions:

1. As a result of political pressures that were brought to bear on the process of cleaning up Munisport, the site only received a Superfund designation on about 30 acres of the 170 acres that had been used as an unregulated dump. It is our understanding that the assumption at the time of the EPA’s initial Remedial Investigation was that there would not be residential occupancy over any sources of contamination, so there would be no likely human pathways of exposure to contaminants. The Remedial Investigation did no subsurface sampling and was limited to only three locations on the surface of the 170 acre dump. It is our understanding that Munisport did not meet any of the state criteria for a “sanitary landfill,” and during its operation it was advertised by the operators in the Yellow Pages under “Dump.” Now that residential development is being allowed on the dump, should there be a reevaluation by all agencies of the full 170 acres and of the cleanup protocol?

2. EPA documentation indicates that benzene, toluene, chromium, arsenic, and lead were found on the site and described as contaminants of concern. These chemicals are listed by the EPA and hundreds of other governmental and environmental research studies as being carcinogenic, mutagenic, and neurotoxic to both humans and wildlife. In 1976, Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) discovered 12 drums of liquid chemicals on the site. These drums were documented to be “draining” into the dump. We understand that these drums were later buried on site and never relocated to a hazardous waste site as required by law. Have these potential sources of contamination been located? Will any of the proposed clean-up activities seek to identify and quantify what was in the drums, and remove them as a source of contamination?

3. What safety measures are in place to ensure that any contaminants will not be released into the groundwater, air, and surface waters of the adjacent BBAP and the ORSRA? What will be done to ensure that soils are not a source of contamination to future adult and child residents?

4. During a meeting with DERM staff earlier this year, we learned of a study available on the cleanup technology that is being implemented on the site for the purposes of treating the contaminated groundwater. The cleanup method approved is considered "experimental," having only been used once on a large scale at an airport site outside of Florida. What documentation exists that describes this method and why is it considered appropriate in this Florida setting? What are the results of the experimental cleanup?

5. We understand that Miami-Dade County has authorized the groundwater remediation to occur concurrent to the construction of the residential units. We are concerned that the clean-up will not be completed prior to residential occupancy of the site. Have all the regulatory agencies authorized groundwater treatment and construction to occur at the same time? Is there any regulatory mechanism that will restrict occupancy until the groundwater and contaminated soils have been adequately treated or contained? We understand that at least 80 units have been sold to date, and the land appears to be cleared and ready to break ground for phase 1. Is there any requirement for full disclosure of the dump to potential buyers?

6. As the groundwater remediation technology was explained to us, oxygen and sugar injected underground will react with ammonia, changing it to a gas to be dispelled. Is there any other chemical reaction that may result from injecting sugar? Are there any hypothesized dangers of adding oxygen and sugar underground? Are there any other undesirable compounds or unintended consequences that may result?

7. It was our understanding that the dump would be required to be capped prior to development of the site. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) typically requires an impermeable cap for landfill closure, however our information indicates that both the City and the developer want a permeable cap. What is the status of this requirement? What are the consequences to future residents if the dump is not capped? If there is only a shallow soil surface above the dump, what will happen when people dig around their residences for landscaping, pools etc.? How can you prevent them from digging up and exposing dumped materials?

8. We are also concerned with the addition of contaminants that may result from the site’s development. For example, will the installation of asphalt (which leaches Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) be allowed in this sensitive environment, adjacent to the significant natural resources of the BBAP and the ORSRA?

9. We understand that there was extensive uncontrolled and unregulated dumping on this site, including but not limited to: drums of chemicals, hospital waste, industrial waste, etc. Will these contaminants be located and removed? It is our understanding that the approved cleanup is limited to the treatment of ammonia. Has testing been extensive enough for other pollutants in light of the dense population proposed to reside on this site? What happened to all these other pollutants that were never removed from the site? Did they just disappear?

10. To ensure that there is no public health risk to the local community (including a large student population at the adjacent Florida International University campus) will there be ongoing testing to monitor groundwater, air quality, and surface waters in the adjacent BBAP and ORSRA during construction phases? Will testing include subsurface soils that will be stirred up during the development phase of the construction?

11. What agencies will oversee testing, and monitor the site for regulatory compliance? What contaminants will be monitored? How often will monitoring take place? What are the threshold amounts for each of the contaminants that would trigger additional remediation?

12. We are concerned about current proposals for stormwater management at the site. We recall that the old regulations required retaining at least the first inch of stormwater on site. We question whether the stormwater at Munisport should be injected. Are there alternative methods of stormwater treatment that may better protect future residents, the BBAP and the ORSRA?

13. We are concerned with proposals to modify adjacent wetlands in order to accommodate other features to accommodate the development, like roadways. Are the agencies working together to ensure that the applicants avoid environmental impacts to natural resources like coastal wetlands to the maximum extent practical?

14. We also bring to your attention the following:

• The on-site "lakes" are rock quarry pits and waste dump holes that are 30 plus foot deep cuts into the limerock (and consequently the Biscayne Aquifer, currently, the Sole Source Aquifer for Miami-Dade, Broward and part of Palm Beach Counties) thus exposing the groundwater to all manner of pollutants, which is moving off-site. The lakes are not self-contained, so we believe stormwater release into the "lakes" is a short path to the BBAP, the ORSRA and nearby Miami-Dade County Water Treatment facilities.

• We believe that deep well injection down to the salt water zone of the aquifer will be problematic since drilling through a plume or adding huge volumes of contaminated stormwater could possibly add more volume into the existing plume with an unpredictable result, such as moving the plume more quickly off site into the waters of the BBAP and the ORSRA. Do all of the regulatory agencies know the location of the plume, including its depth and lateral extent? We have been advised that the bottom of the plume could be 150 feet down.

• Could the retention areas, unless properly lined, add to the contaminant load on site?

• We believe that the 90 plus acres of wetlands, landward of the dike are preservation lands and support a thriving wetland community. We understand that the City owns these lands. When the "clean-up" is accomplished, we believe these wetlands should be added to the ORSRA and maintained as a preserve in perpetuity. We question whether this area should be used for stormwater retention. We are very concerned with any proposal to breach the on-site barriers (dikes), thus allowing contaminants to dump directly into state lands and surface waters.

• According to the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services report (excerpts attached) “… limited soil sampling was conducted at the Munisport Landfill site. There was no attempt to thoroughly characterize the soils in the landfill.” This report goes on to explain that no samples were taken from the landfill itself, only the cover soil, 0-1 foot deep.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this project and we look forward to responses to our questions.

(signatures waived to expedite delivery)

Sierra Club, Miami Group
Rod Jude
P.O. Box 430741
South Miami, FL 33243

Cynthia Guerra
Executive Director
Tropical Audubon Society
5530 Sunset Drive
Miami, FL 33143

Nancy Liebman
Urban Environment League
212 NE 24th Street
Miami, FL 33137

Genius of Despair said...

The letter dated Aug. 13, 2004 went to:

J. I. Palmer, Jr.
Regional Administrator
US EPA, Region 4
Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 562-8174 (fax)

Timothy Rach
Program Administrator
Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Program
400 North Congress, Suite 200
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
(561) 681-6755 (fax)

Terrie Bates
Department Director
Environmental Resources Regulation
South Florida Water Management District
PO Box 24680
West Palm Beach, FL 33416-4680
(561) 592-6896 (fax)

John Renfrow
Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management
33 SW 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33143
(305) 372-6759 (fax)

Anonymous said...

The consent agreement is between the city of North Miami and Derm. They are the ones that will be left holding the bag in the end-- the ones that will get sued. The developers never signed the consent agreement. They are just trying to do the cheapest cleanup possible and will be long gone...

Anonymous said...

"We, the residents of North Miami, are on the hook, not the developers? Haven't we spent enough on Munisport (without any return)?" More like the residents of all of Dade County. How has the City spent the millions of dollars the County has given it for Munisport over the past several years?