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Key Biscayne’s recommended $248 million stormwater system is the only option when it comes to preparing for climate change, the Village’s chief resilience officer said he will tell the Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Council will decide whether to approve the first phase: a $4.1 million work order for engineering firm AECOM to complete the design for the oft-flooded neighborhood around the K-8 school. But the decision lays the literal groundwork for the project as a whole.

“Your infrastructure is going to be set in a certain way in size,” Chief Resilience Officer Roland Samimy said. “That enables you to basically upgrade as necessary in the future, depending on how storms change as a result of climate change.”

Samimy will lead the presentation and said he will try to dissuade the Council from being “penny-wise but pound-foolish.” A stormwater system that is less expensive, using smaller pumps and pipe sizes, would need to be rebuilt from scratch if storms continue to grow more menacing as the climate heats up, he said.

Meteorologists and researchers say climate changes will mean more intense storms for Florida, such as the one that dropped 26 inches of rain in downtown Fort Lauderdale in one night last April. Key Biscayne got flooded by storms in June and November last year.

The lowest the Council can go without hitting diminishing returns is a system that removes 1.8 inches of flood water per hour, Samimy said. He said that could shave a few million dollars from the total cost.

Tuesday’s decision could have political ramifications, as well.

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Mayor Joe Rasco, running for reelection, said in his State of the Village speech on Wednesday that delivering a 100% design for Zone 1 was his top priority in 2024. He wants  shovels in the ground by next year.

Village Manager Steve Williamson and Samimy sat down with reporters on Thursday to speak about the upcoming vote. They also spoke about a visit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also slated for next week to start looking at the coastal protection component of the project the Village calls “Elevating Our Island Paradise.”

The Corps will hold workshops Wednesday and Thursday with Village staff and then will be available for the public to ask questions in the Lighthouse Room of the Community Center.

“We will come out of that with ideas but by no means anywhere near any solution,” Williamson said. “They (the Corps) then will go back to their senior leadership and say this is the direction that we think we’re going.”

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Williamson primed the engines for Tuesday’s vote at a Jan. 10 workshop where the new system was presented to Council that cut net costs by 19% to the $248 million.

Council Members Ed London and Brett Moss pushed back, asking for further cuts. Moss dismissed AECOM’s concern of flooding low-lying Key Biscayne homes as hyperbole and London insisted that a cheaper system that moved 1-inch per hour be considered.

 The Village plans on defraying tens of millions of dollars through grants. All told, the gross cost for the “Big Dig” lands at $330 million. 

A slide presented to Key Biscayne Village Council that shows the total and net costs of the Big Dig infastructure project. (Photo/Provided by Village of Key Biscayne)

For the recommended stormwater system, a single-family home of 4,500 square feet would pay $2,549 a year. Williamson noted Thursday that is the average cost over the 40 years the Village is borrowing money to pay for the system. Some years the cost per household would be far less, others more.

Williamson said he could see AECOM abandoning the project if the Council rejects the recommended system after it insisted the engineering firm do some 113 model runs.

“They’re going to be the engineer on record. We can go low, but at some point AECOM says, ‘I’m not going to design this,’” he said.

The Council on Tuesday will either adopt the new plan, reject it or possibly send it back to AECOM for more modeling. 

“We can keep modeling and keep modeling and keep modeling,” Williamson said. “We’re circling around. Let’s go to the next phase.”

Samimy said he is hoping  the Council will accept the recommended new system for Zone 1 so that the work can get started. “I’m going to put positivity out in the universe,” he said.

A slide presented to Key Biscayne Village Council that shows out of pocket costs for taxpayers for the Big Dig infastructure project. (Photo/Provided by Village of Key Biscayne)

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.