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Sigrun Hernandez sat and listened patiently as elaborate slides showed schematics on plans to give Key Biscayne a new drainage system that will take years to install. But she wanted answers now following the deluge of late March. 

After an hour on Thursday night, the resident on the 500 block of Woodcrest Road raised her hand. “I have a question on the timeline,” she queried. 

“Just the other day we had standing water for hours and hours after the rain stopped,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t get to my house until 8 p.m. “It’s not even safe to walk because you don’t know what you’re stepping on. And you can’t drive your car, let alone a golf cart.”

Village Manager Steve Williamson told her that as the Village works towards a plan to revamp its stormwater drainage system as part of $250 million in infrastructure projects, there will be a Band-aid approach to give relief now. 

“This is very, very detailed engineering, this is going to take care of problems in the future but we also realized we got flooding now,” he said.

The island was again socked on Monday and Tuesday, receiving 2.7 inches of rain through Tuesday afternoon, according to a gauge at Rosenstiel school on Virginia Key. The heavy rains are from a stalled cell that stalled and churned for hours just outside Key Biscayne’s front door. 

The saving grace was that many of the private schools were still closed for the Easter holiday so there weren’t as many students sloshing through the streets.

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The Village has identified five zones for immediate flood control and mitigation with work commencing by September. Four of the zones are west of Crandon Boulevard and adjacent to the Village Green. The last zone is Holiday Colony.

The stop-gap project will last six to nine months as the Village will repitch 3.5 miles of roads. Redwood Lane, reconstruct Glenridge Road and curb catch basins and drains

Source: Village of Key Biscayne

“What we’re looking to do is actually improve the efficiency of what the existing systems can do,” said Roland Samimy, Key Biscayne’s Chief Resilience and Sustainability Officer.

Samimy said there are limits to what the current drainage system can accomplish,“but maybe pitch the roads a little bit better, so that the water flows to those drains a little bit better, we can restructure how those drains exist so that we keep stuff out of them.”

Williamson said the Village has already received bids for the mitigation project. While total costs are still to be determined,  there is $3.4 million allocated from the Stormwater Revenue Fund, state appropriations, and money set aside to repave roadways. 

Heavy construction is not expected to commence for more than a year, starting in the K-8 Basin just west of the Village Green. Key Biscayne’s Village Council must still approve a final plan which will involve a series of new stormwater pumps, outfalls and pipes.

Meanwhile, there’s also some news that a trial installation of anti-pollution filters in the neighborhoods west of the Village Green do appear to be helping.

“Your first line of defense is keeping your streets clean. Your second line of defense is keeping things out of the system,” Samimy said.

Emilio Lopez, CEO of SOP Technologies, said his company’s filters did pretty good in the March rain event.

“They definitely collected a good amount of debris, which is good,”  Lopez said. “And then, you know, we also noticed that there was still plenty of capacity to capture more. So they weren’t blocked in any way.”

The pilot program involving SOP Technologies, which costs about $87,000, had been a bit controversial,  with Council Member Brett Moss particularly saying he thought the system could make flooding worse by clogging drains. He said he hadn’t heard how the filters were performing.

It  remains to be seen if the filters will be incorporated into new overhauled system which isn’t slated to break ground until the middle of next year.

“We’re considering it, but we don’t know how effective they are,” Samimy said, “That’s why we’re doing the pilot test.”

The recent rains should give further proof of the filters’ effectiveness, he said.

“We are checking them and they are working as intended. To date no basket filter has reached capacity but SOP Technology staff will be coming out tomorrow to quantify how much debris has been collected during this ongoing rain event.” 

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.