Miami-Dade Almost Out of Money for Federally Mandated Sewage System Upgrades

Miami-Dade County, Fla., is on the brink of running out of money to pay for federally mandated upgrades to its outdated sewage system. This revelation comes just days after more than 700,000 gallons of sewage dumped into Biscayne Bay from the last remaining pump station yet to be scheduled for repairs.

Early in February, county officials revealed that they were weeks away from running out of money to continue paying for the substantial upgrades to the county’s aging sewage system being overseen by AECOM. In 2014, AECOM was awarded the highly sought-after contract which Miami-Dade initially valued at $91 million over at most 15 years but as the company began evaluating the scope of the work, it quickly discovered the contract had been extremely undervalued.

Now the company is asking for a more than 50 percent increase in funds to cover the cost of additional work not specified in the original estimates. New standards for sea-level rise contributed to the increase in cost but the majority of the expense comes from several expanded projects – such as replacing pump stations instead of repairing them.

The county commissioners agreed in a 3 to 2 vote to approve an increase up to $140 million for AECOM.

The county was forced to begin the upgrades in 2013 when it settled a lawsuit brought on by the EPA to the tune of almost $2 billion. The “consent decree” program stipulated that the county would agree to more than 80 upgrades and replacements of pipelines, treatment plants and pump systems across the Miami area.

By 2017, the construction costs alone had risen from about $730 million to over $1.1 billion and AECOM was also billing much faster than expected when the contract was approved. The initial money was supposed to last over a decade and now Kevin Lynskey, the water and sewer director for the county, has said that by April the county will no longer have the money to fund the work.

While the construction costs have increased dramatically, the overall cost of the project has increased more modestly from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion. The work encompassed by the consent decree is only part of the $12 billion in total water and sewer projects the county has planned, including a mandate by the state to reduce the amount of treated sewage being pumped into the ocean.  -UC

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