Openly expressing distrust of Miami-Dade County officials and fearful that plans to privatize the Rickenbacker Causeway will ignore Key Biscayne’s interests, the Village Council signaled Tuesday that it will explore cutting its own deal with one of three groups competing for a massive public project. The renovation project could transform Village life and shape the future of one of Miami’s most popular and picturesque recreation areas used by millions each year.
Miami-Dade County is expected to announce details of the bidding process Aug. 15, with a sole public Zoom meeting scheduled for Aug. 4, said Village Manager Steve Williamson. The Village Council also said it would hold its own special meeting soon, but no date was set.
“This calls for a muscular response,” said Fausto Gomez, a former Village lobbyist addressing the Council. Following up, Council Member Ignacio Segurola asked the Village to partner with one of the rival groups, lest the Village be “begging for scraps” in the design and operation of the bridge system connecting Key Biscayne with the mainland.
Council Member Frank Caplan agreed with Segurola, saying the secretive County process “has me on edge.” It was an unusual note for Caplan, long a champion of striking deals with larger governments, such as the one that led to the Village’s high school partnership with the County school board at MAST Academy.
“I just don’t trust this,” said Caplan, a former Village mayor.
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The other potential bidders were identified by Williamson as United Bridge Partners and a partnership between Paris-based construction company Bouygues (pronounced boo-EEG’) and T.Y. Lin International from San Francisco. They could compete with a still-confidential proposal from the Zyscovich Consortium submitted to the County in March.
United Bridge Partners, a Denver-based company, was involved in 2017 causeway discussions led by then-Mayor Carlos Gimenez, but those efforts were scuttled in the wake of the 2018 FIU Bridge Collapse, officials said. Bouygues, meanwhile, took the lead in construction of the billion-dollar Port of Miami Tunnel, another massive privatized public works project.
Williamson said he has already had contacts with the firms and will signal the Village’s readiness to take a leading role in the process, including being part of the technical committee which would “score” the merits of competing proposals. But he also urged caution to maintain good relationships with County officials, suggesting that an overly aggressive approach could backfire.
“We have to tread a fine line,” said the manager, a former Army Corps of Engineers colonel. He said the County parks director called him Tuesday, expressing concern that the County’s commitment to working with the Village was not being heard.
Gomez has suggested that Key Biscayne offer to be the lead municipality in the effort. In that scenario, the County would delegate much of its authority over the roadway to the Village government. In return, the County would still reap its share of a lucrative income stream from higher tolls — but without the administrative headache. Others have described that approach as unrealistic, but there appeared to be consensus at the Council meeting that the Village should pursue a significant decision-making role.
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Key Biscayne’s relationship with the County and City of Miami has often been strained if not openly hostile. The Village unsuccessfully sued the City of Miami over the relocation of the Boat Show to Virginia Key, and it mounted a very public campaign to block the Ultra Music Festival from the same spot.
Williamson said he is looking forward to putting his capital projects experience from the Army and County and City government to use.
“This is exciting. This is ‘things I like.’ Big projects,” he said,
Editors note — restores reference to the Zyscovich Consortium
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.