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The South Florida Roundup

What's next for waste-to-energy plant in Doral?

A 2022 aerial view of the Miami-Dade Resources Recovery Facility-Covanta Energy incinerator plant located at 6990 NW 97th Ave. in Doral.
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
A 2022 aerial view of the Miami-Dade Resources Recovery Facility-Covanta Energy incinerator plant located at 6990 NW 97th Ave. in Doral.

The blaze and smoke from the Covanta Waste-to-Energy Plant in Doral did more than create air quality fears in west Miami-Dade County this month.

The fire, which started back on Feb. 12, has reopened a heated debate in the city about the county’s plans to build a new, more modern waste energy plant next door to the current facility.

This happens as Miami-Dade County deals with a serious garbage issue – we may be running out of places to put our garbage.

On the South Florida Roundup, we spoke about the state of the fire and the state of waste management and trash in the county.

Miami-Dade County’s chief operating officer, Jimmy Morales, said there is no longer an active fire but instead smolders caused by the amount of trash on the site. He estimated the next stage of the operation would take about two and a half weeks to complete.

“They'll be removing portions of the building to open up greater access to trash in there so that they can then really put out whatever smoldering areas and then remove the trash and remove the fuel,” he said.

Backers of the plant say the Covanta incinerator plays a key role in garbage disposal for the county.

According to Morales, the plant processes about a million tons of waste each year, disposing of waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency show the North Dade landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2025, while the South Dade landfill is estimated to last around a decade more.

Without the Covanta plant, Morales said these numbers would most likely be much lower.

However, residents of Doral object to having a waste incinerator plant in their midst. They also object to Miami-Dade County's plans to replace the current facility with a new one at roughly the same site.

Rafael Pineyro, the Vice Mayor of Doral, said he understands his constituents' concerns. With new members on the Board of County Commissioners, he sees an opportunity to listen to residents and finally have the plant relocated.

“We have to actually work together, this time with the county, to make sure that the facility is actually relocated out of the city,” he said. “And that is something that I'm working on, not only [by] sending the letters to the county commissioners. But at the same time I know our mayor Christi Fraga is very involved right now in the conversations.”

But groups like Florida Rising, a non-profit tackling issues of social inequality, argue that trash burning isn’t an actual solution to the county’s problems.

Nestor Perez, an environmental attorney for non-profit Earthjustice who is representing Florida Rising, told host Tim Padgett that while there is a general message of creating energy through the process, the Covanta incinerator is a problem for the area.

“It diverts away the attention from the real solutions,” he said. “Waste prevention, recycling and composting.”

Florida Rising filed a complaint against the plant with the EPA in 2022. The group is proposing zero waste methods to the county through their Justice on Every Block program, which sets its eyes on eliminating toxins in Doral and reducing the county’s dependence on “dirty energy.”

Among their solutions are creating a plan to transition the county to zero waste by 2025, denying the renewal of the Covanta waste plant permit, continuously air quality testing the area, and rejecting further funding for the incinerator.

“The market studies that the county commission has shown [reveal] that it’s actually cheaper to [explore opportunities in zero waste for the trash] than incinerate it,” said Perez, adding that these solutions do not include incineration or landfilling.

Miami-Dade County’s chief operating officer, Jimmy Morales, said that the county is committed to a zero-waste strategy.

For the latest updates on the Doral waste-to-energy plant fire, click here.

On the South Florida Roundup, we also discussed students in South Florida staging walkouts to protest Governor DeSantis’ plans to block DEI programs and the U.S.'s relationship with Nicaragua in the face of the release of hundreds of prisoners.

Listen to the full episode above.

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Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.