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Village Manager Steve Williamson is pushing for a third time to get Key Biscayne’s Village Council to approve two contracts that his administration has been recommending for months. 

But getting to “yes” has not been easy. The contracts — up for votes Wednesday — cover a test of pollution control devices in the island’s storm drains and renewal of a contract covering trash hauling services on the island. 

In both cases, Williamson has argued that critical relationships the Village needs are at stake, and that further delay would harm those relationships, whether they are with state officials or with a contractor delivering a critical village service. 

The first area is a pilot program to filter water that flows into Biscayne Bay from the island’s storm sewers. At stake, according to Williamson, are state funds to test two different types of technology to remove pollutants in storm drains near the K-8 school. The pilot projects, costing about $210,000, would receive three-quarters funding from the State Department of Environmental Protection. 

A diagram of a sponge filter from AbTech Industries proposed for a pilot program in Key Biscayne, Florida. (KBI via Village of Key Biscayne)

One technology, a type of basket that collects debris, is already being tested, according to Roland Samimy, the island’s resilience officer. Another technology is a type of sponge that is aimed at removing harmful chemical pollutants. 

“We’ve got a lot of big projects to do,” Williamson said, adding state officials are starting to question why the Village hasn’t started the projects it applied for. Williamson said the delay “is jeopardizing the relationship” with the state environmental agency. “We’ve got to be good stewards of the bay and the ocean that surrounds us.”

The council approved the grant submission last August. But some council members — notably Brett Moss and Fernando Vazquez — have worried that the technology would fail during periods of heavy rain and cause flooding. 

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“What’s the point in starting to test pollution controls?” Moss said at a meeting in January, saying his “confidence level is not high” that the technology will work. 

Council Member Fernando Vazquez, an environmental engineer, also raised questions, but said he plans to vote yes on the measure Wednesday, with the proviso the devices can be swiftly removed if they lead to flooding. He said he fully supports pollution controls, but said water quality approaches that happen at discharge, after the water has been pumped away, are more likely to work than a system that works at the storm drain. Mayor Joe Rasco said he too has been satisfied with the administration’s responses and would likely vote yes on the pilot program contracts. 

Trash Contract

In the second area, Williamson again is asking for an early renewal of a contract with Great Waste and Recycling Service to handle trash removal, but with a smaller price tag than before. 

The council previously balked at a 9% increase in January, after Williamson argued that maintaining goodwill with a well-regarded contractor was in the village’s interest. Staff had spent months negotiating new terms Williamson argued were fair considering inflationary wage pressures. 

The revised contract up for vote Wednesday comes with a one-time 5.9% increase, with inflation caps for 4% for future year price increases. The proposal would also allow the Village to create a franchise system to condominiums and businesses, with the hope of extending savings. The increase would be retroactive to January of this year. 

Mayor Joe Rasco, who also was skeptical in January, said the administration had worked hard to lower the cost and said he would support the contract re-opener. “This is a rare exception,” Rasco said. “If a company makes a contract with us, we expect them to keep it.” 

The slow approval process has drawn some attention from the Village’s unions, who will be starting bargaining for new labor contracts soon. The administration rejected the comparison, but representatives from Great Waste said wage pressure was one of the reasons they sought a contract re-opener. 

The revised manager’s memo says the proposed fee increase is “based solely on the increased tipping fees” that Miami-Dade County charges waste haulers, but did not detail how the new increase was arrived at. 

Rasco said he had reached out to Eddie Blanco, the head of Key Biscayne’s unionized firefighters, to say that the solid waste contract shouldn’t be seen as a precedent for the upcoming round of negotiations. 

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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...