Update on indian creek project's lack of permits

Resiliency

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Update on indian creek project's lack of permits:

corrective actions will “very likely” include removing part of the new seawall

Updates to the story we brought you first about problems with unpermitted work on the Indian Creek seawall project and the City Engineer being put on administrative leave:

Miami Beach officials will meet this Friday with the various regulatory agencies involved to discuss the unpermitted seawall work and, specifically, a 75-foot section of the wall that juts out 5-6 feet further than the old wall. The meeting will focus on corrective actions the City will have to take and the plan for moving forward.

That said, City Environmental Manager Margarita Wells told the Commission’s Finance and Citywide Projects Committee that in a phone conversation she had Friday morning with a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “It is very likely it will have to be moved.”
 
Following disclosure of the unpermitted work, the City said Engineer Bruce Mowry was placed on administrative leave pending a separation agreement. Mowry who joined the City in October 2013 had a good relationship with former Mayor Philip Levine, a strong advocate for the City’s resiliency projects. Mowry told RE:MiamiBeach his responsibilities had been lessened since the November election. “I was told verbally that I was supposed to be phasing out,” he said. “I no longer have a Philip Levine. The City and I were going in different directions.”
 
While he was removed from the Indian Creek project in November, he said that the unpermitted work happened on his watch.
 
He said the City had received its County and State permits but had been waiting for the Federal permit since September 2016 when he directed the Contractor to move ahead this summer. “How long do you wait?” he asked rhetorically. “So, yes. I took an aggressive attitude. I told the contractor what to do because we were there to stop the flooding in that part of the City. Residents need emergency medical services and the response time would be slow because the area would be underwater. We already had property damage in that area.”
 
“I’m hired to do something and that’s what I expect to do,” he added. “If I need to make a decision, I make a decision to move ahead and to solve and fix the problem.”
 
Mowry made clear the blame was on him, not the contractor, Shoreline Foundation. “Everybody wants to blame it on the contractor. They shouldn’t be carried with the burden on this.”
 
Normally, the State and County permits are all that is needed for seawall construction because the projects are on a smaller scale. When the project grew to include a seawall length greater than 500 feet, certain permitting exemptions were no longer available, City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said after the disclosure of the unpermitted work.
 
Mowry said Shoreline “knew we had the State and the local permits. They were not maybe fully aware of the other things because most seawalls don’t require federal permits and they may not have understood that aspect.”
 
“90% of my projects I only need to show them a DERM and South Florida [Water Management District] permit,” he said. That’s what the norm is” and those were the permits he showed Shoreline. DERM is the Miami-Dade County Division of Environmental Resources Management.
 
Stantec, described as the project’s environmental consultant in the letter City Manager Jimmy Morales sent to Commissioners notifying them of the unpermitted work, “did nothing wrong” according to Mowry. “They were only hired to do the biological analysis of what was out there and to document what was out there, not to monitor the construction,” he said.
 
Mowry said based on an assessment from the State’s diving unit and the Stantec analysis, “There was nothing of significant environmental significance along that wall.”
 
He said he made a decision “not build a crooked wall” so he directed the contractor to build a straight wall and take the area in question out into Indian Creek beyond the current wall. He called it a “difference in philosophy” with the Federal regulators.
 
“I didn’t fill in Biscayne Bay,” he said. “I didn’t fill in the whole waterway.”
 
No word yet on how much moving the wall would cost and where that funding would come from.
 
At this week’s Commission meeting, Commissioners balked when the Public Works Department requested an additional $2.5m for further work on the stormwater construction portion of the project. Commissioner Michael Góngora said of the problems, “This just echoes the concerns that some of us expressed at the last meeting. I think we all want to move forward with all these sustainability and resiliency projects but there’ve been a lot of issues along the way. They haven’t been done correctly. This project has numerous issues. It’s over schedule. It’s over budget.”
 
“Before we move forward on all of the major, super expensive projects that the City wants to do to keep us afloat, I think that we really need to make sure that we’re doing it right,” he said making note of the planned “red team” assessment by outside experts. “This [Indian Creek project] is an example of what we’ve been doing wrong, so I have a hard time voting for any more money until I have more confidence in this project.” The item was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion.
 
Meanwhile, work on the project has been stopped pending a resolution of the regulatory issues.
 

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Susan Askew
Susan Askew
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Susan Askew
Susan Askew
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