Miami-Dade Resources Recovery FacilityPHOTO COURTESY OF MIAMIDADE.GOV

While Miami-Dade County explores three different sites for a new trash and energy incinerator, two city mayors threatened legal action if the plant is built in their backyards.

At last week’s Miami-Dade County Commission meeting, Miramar’s Mayor Wayne Messam told county commissioners his city will sue if the incinerator comes to the old Opa-Locka West Airport, which is about a mile away from residential neighborhoods in Broward County.

Messam said the incinerator at that location could pose health hazards, impact the drinking water supply and threaten the endangered species in the Everglades.

He said the incinerator will jeopardize the health of over 100,000 Broward County residents.

"It’s bad for the environment," he said. "It’s bad for the public. It’s bad for the region’s supply of clean water and will trigger a decade of litigation. Miramar will file suit if the site is selected."

Doral Mayor Christi Fraga said her city also is prepared to file a lawsuit against the county if they build a new incinerator at the existing location in Doral, 6990 N.W. 97th Avenue.

She said Doral residents have suffered long enough with the incinerator for years and it’s time for the county to select a new location.

Christi suggested the old Opa-locka Airport West.

"A larger campus they can grow is the Opa-locka West site," she told county commissioners. "We’ve advocated for that. We understand that it does impact the entire county, but at the end of the day, Doral has had it in their backyard for 40 years."

The county needs to build a new incinerator after the existing plant was engulfed in flames for days last year, prompting the county to urge residents, especially those with upper respiratory issues, to stay indoors if possible or wear masks to avoid health problems until it was safe.

The county is using trucks and other means of transportation to transport about 4,000 tons of trash daily to other sites outside the tri-county area until a new incinerator is built.

A landfill in Medley is another proposed site for the incinerator and Mayor Roberto Martell said his town will roll out the welcome mat for the plant.

But County Commissioner Juan Carlos Bermudez, who represents Doral and Medley, said an incinerator in both cities is not consistent with their master plan for the future.

"If the county is going to make an investment, do deal with an issue we have in Miami-Dade County, then I think the proper thing is to be concerned for the residents of Miami-Dade County first," he said. "I’ll also add these are not necessarily underprivileged areas in Miramar. They’re actually areas that are pretty well off."

Also, the report suggests placing the plant in Medley might not get the green light from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would issue the permit, because it’s adjacent to a landfill and cement operation.

Bermudez said he understands the position Miramar has taken on the issue, especially if an incinerator would impact residents’ health.

"Even though they don’t live in MiamiDade County, Broward County residents have some stake in this," he said. "We have to evaluate everything before we decide to put it in any location."

At the meeting, county commissioners reviewed a study on the three sites for the incinerator to determine any environmental and health issues to zero in on a location.

The study suggested the potential ecological risk linked to large air emissions sources will have minimal impact on human health and the environment, and also taking into account strict standards imposed by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.

Building a new incinerator could cost the county about $1 billion, but the study suggests keeping the plant in Doral is less costly.

The next step for the county is conducting community outreach with the impacted cities to discuss the studies and garner input from concerned citizens.

Miami-Dade will release another impact study in August and decide on town hall meetings at the September 4, 2024 County Commission meeting.

The county already approved $65 million in December for a new waste incinerator project to avoid development halt and is currently conducting air quality and environmental studies at the three sites.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said it could take up to 10 years to build a new incinerator.

She said the fire made the incinerator in Doral inoperable and the county must build a new one.

"The loss of the waste reduction capability from the RRF has compressed the timeline on which our landfills reach full capacity and has reduced by approximately half our overall solid waste disposal capacity," she said. "The comprehensive development master plan requires the annual certification of a level of service with at least five years’ disposal capacity as a prerequisite to issue development permits, and unlike other forms of concurrency such as transportation, concurrency requirements for solid waste are state mandated and cannot be waived due to their importance to public health."