flooded streets in key biscayne
People try to cross Harbor Drive in Key Biscayne during a tropical deluge, June 4, 2022. Key Biscayne Council members expressed unease about a $310 million estimate to build new storm water lines and pumps to combat sea level rise. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)
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The Village Council approved more than $625,000 in contracts Tuesday to start the design process for major resilience projects on the island, a major step in planning the details of storm water, shoreline, and utility undergrounding projects that could cost $250 million over the next decade. 

The full amount of the spending commitment was not known, because the largest of the three contracts –creating the overall roadmap– is based on future work orders. But the Village had previously budgeted $1 million for that item in 2022, said Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Nussbaum.  

The trio of votes are a follow-up to a critical decision last February, where the council set targets for keeping roads passable as sea levels rise. The goal is to remove flood waters swiftly enough to ensure there is a maximum ponding depth of less than six inches, for a duration of not more than 12 hours, based on a storm dropping eight inches of rain in a 24 hour period. 

For the first time in the village’s history, the system is being designed with sea level rise factored in. 

First up: a 9-block area around the island’s elementary school, dubbed the K-8 basin, which previous studies identified as the most flood-prone section of the village. A $265,000 contract with AECOM Technical Services, the island’s environmental engineering firm, will lead to a “30% design,” allowing officials to put the contract out to bid. 

The proposed pumping station would be placed in a new park on Harbor Drive, between W. McIntyre St. and W. Enid Drive. AECOM is required to deliver plans within nine months. 

The second AECOM contract, valued at $359,000, will evaluate the scope of the stormwater project in the remainder of the island to the same goals – but will produce three separate scenarios with varying cost and performance levels. 

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The votes were not all unanimous. 

Council Member Ed London voted no on the second contract, but only after hitting Roland Samimy, the village’s chief resilience official, with multiple and sometimes pointed questions. London wanted to know if probabilities had been calculated for future flooding, whether the village would be getting drawings it could actually bid out to contractors, and whether swales and one-way streets would be needed.

Key Biscayne Chief Resiliency Officer Roland Samimy and Public Works Director Jake Ozyman brief council on upcoming projects to combat sea level rise, Tuesday July 26, 2022 (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Samimy said the Village was already experiencing severe flood events, and that previous studies did not account for sea level rise in computer models of street flooding and how to move water.  

“We’ve already got a problem, and it’s a recurring problem that needs to be dealt with,” Samimy said. Swales and one-way streets could be part of the solution, he added.

The K-8 basin project, in effect, is a testbed, said Public Works Director Jake Ozyman. “Do one, address the worst condition, which is K-8, and have lessons learned and move on,” he said. 

Village officials said they are focusing on a “dig once” strategy that will minimize disruptions caused by stormwater, shoreline protection, utility undergrounding, and possible road change projects that could include one-way streets to construct swales. 

“The reality is we can’t shut down the village for two years in order to build it all out all at once, added Samimy. “We have to do it incrementally.” 

The integration plan, the most expensive contract approved Tuesday, will create the roadmap for all of the drainage, beach, and utility projects. The Black & Veatch firm will prioritize the projects, determine construction phases, set up program management, and sequence borrowing, grants, and other funding.  

“The reason that we want to do this is specifically to be able to only dig once, to the extent that we can do that perfectly, then we’re heroes,” Samimy said. 

“That is the most important thing you can do,” said Council Member Luis Lauredo. “This is a great step forward.” 

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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.

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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...