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‘Getting honest’ about Miami-Dade’s trash dilemma

Miami-Dade firefighters work to extinguish the fire at the Covanta incinerator plant in Doral on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. The fire continued to burn on Wednesday.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue
Miami-Dade firefighters work to extinguish the fire at the Covanta incinerator plant in Doral on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. The fire continued to burn on Wednesday.

Trash. It’s one of those municipal services where if it’s working well, you may not think about it at all. And if it’s not working — it’s a crisis.

If Miami-Dade doesn’t find more places to send its garbage, the county will be forced to declare a moratorium on construction next year. That’s what Miami-Dade County’s trash chief Mike Fernandez said in his stark warning as he announced his resignation last week.

On the latest episode of the South Florida Roundup, WLRN’s Kate Payne spoke with Miami-Dade County's Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Morales, who oversees the Department of Solid Waste Management, and District 7 County Commissioner Raquel Regalado.

“We need to have this conversation because we’re taking this stuff on kind of piecemeal,” said Regalado, who chairs the county’s Infrastructure, Operations and Innovations Committee. “We got to start getting honest with people about what's really happening with trash … and the cost of it, right?”

Fernandez’s departure comes after the county’s trash incinerator plant in Doral caught fire back in February, shutting it down indefinitely. Roughly half of Miami-Dade’s garbage was burned at the Covanta facility. Without it, the county’s trash is filling up landfills – quickly.

“At this point, the County will have to issue a moratorium to stop all development in Miami-Dade County or initiate the plans that were suggested in the past, that would increase disposal capacity, such as landfill expansions and a new [waste to energy] plant,” Fernandez wrote in his resignation letter, which was first reported by the Miami Herald.

One of the major questions facing the Miami-Dade County Commission is whether to rebuild the waste-to-energy facility — and where. Some Doral residents say they’ve dealt with the plant’s noxious smells and dump truck traffic for long enough.

Doug Hanks, who covers Miami-Dade County government for the Miami Herald, told WLRN that the incinerator is a key piece of the county’s current strategy for dealing with its garbage — along with expanding two existing landfills in the north and south ends of the county.

“The question of this is timing. Because this is a mayor who's running for reelection. [Mayor Daniella Levine Cava] is definitely the choice of the environmentalists and values that position,” Hanks said. “Does she want to be bringing a plan to expand landfills and all of the negative that comes with all that?”

During the show, the county’s Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Morales denied that the administration is “dragging their feet” on solutions to the trash dilemma, saying these are difficult issues at a politically sensitive time.

Morales acknowledged that the cost to taxpayers is a key consideration — but says he’s confident officials can agree on short and long-term solutions.

“This is not an unsolvable issue … it is one that's going to be an expensive one,” Morales said. “The question does become … what is the public willing to pay for? Trash is not a sexy topic politically.”Payne also discussed South Florida’s airports leading the country in toxic lead pollution and the Florida Keys’ bicentennial.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
Ammy Sanchez, the Morning Edition producer for WLRN, studies communications at the Honors College at Florida International University.
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