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Key Biscayne appears ready to restart a $250 million infrastructure plan that’s been on hold for months. 

 A resolution is on the agenda for the Council’s Tuesday meeting to authorize a $1.4 million work order for engineering firm Black & Veatch to manage and implement the biggest project in the barrier island’s history.  

“It’s a very big step,” said Roland Samimy, chief resilience and sustainability officer, “This is like the train has left the station.”

But will the administration have the votes? 

Village Manager Steve Williamson received pushback from some council members recently. Brett Moss, Fernando Vazquez, and Ed London all  criticized Black & Veatch’s presentation at the May meeting. Moss and London were part of a unanimous vote in July, 2022 to hire the firm. 

Then at last month’s meeting, the apparent earlier unity on resilience projects appeared to unravel. 

A draft ordinance on seawall height, a relatively small part of the plan,  received harsh criticism from the same trio. After objections from waterfront homeowners, Williamson changed course and now says the Village will now only provide guidelines for sea wall height – while Miami-Dade County readies regulations of its own. 

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In addition to criticizing the Administration’s seawall draft, Moss piled on, adding he wasn’t even sure about the 15-year, dig-once strategy, suggesting it might be too ambitious. 

Williamson warned Council members: “Not taking action now will magnify these threats and vulnerabilities.” 

The set of projects aims at countering sea-level rise by replumbing the antiquated stormwater system, burying utility lines, and re-pitching or even raising some streets. It includes beach renourishment on the Atlantic side of the island and shoreline protection on the bay side.

Williamson, a former Army Corps of Engineers colonel, has outlined an intricate plan where the Village will “dig once” to minimize disruption. 

Voters in 2020 gave the Council the power to seek up to $100 million in borrowing under general obligation bonds, but there is no bond borrowing in the proposed 2024 budget. The budget and a tax increase cap will also be discussed Tuesday. 

The addition of the contract is surprising because the Council earlier planned to wait until the August drainage program workshop before taking the matter up again. 

So does Williamson have the votes? Has there been a change of heart by Moss, Vazquez and London? Or is this a do-or-die moment for the infrastructure project?

Is this a do-or-die moment for the infrastructure project?

A call to Chief of Staff Jocelyn Moussavou was not returned. Moss didn’t return a text message. Vazquez and Mayor Joe Rasco were out of town.

London said Williamson, Samimy and two Black & Veatch representatives lobbied council members. He said the reason he, Moss and Vazquez have been recalcitrant to sign on is that they know the construction business, while other members do not.

London said this work order will be only the first of years of asks by Black & Veatch, estimating the firm will eat up $25 million of the $250 million costs for the infrastructure project.

“The questions are do we need them and how much are we going to spend,” he said. 

Samimy says there has been a lot of work behind the scenes to get Black & Veatch back before the Council.

Moss had asked for written detailed plans from Black & Veatch. At the May meeting, he said to the firm, “Give me an example of what we’re going to have, once we’re done in 10 months. Is it this booklet that we’re going to have? And what is it going to do for us? What are the different pieces to it?”

But in the digital age there is no “book,” Samimy said. The firm manages this massive project so the staff can concentrate on running the Village, he said.

The approval of the work order sets the stage for AECOM, the design engineer, to present the first phase of the infrastructure plan at the August Council meeting. 

Samimy said the Council workshop Aug. 16 will give context for the Village-wide drainage assessment that AECOM is completing.

“All the effort that has been put into the last two years has been to really just get the train rolling from a standstill to moving out of the station,” Samimy said. 

John Pacenti

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.