Regional News

Miami-Dade Needs $1B for Critical Water and Sewer Repairs

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Southeast’s largest public water and sewer system needs $1.1 billion in repairs, according to a report Miami-Dade County commissioners received Wednesday.

The repairs, which are required by an Environmental Protection Agency consent order being negotiated, are expected to be funded with a combination of revenue bonds, grants and loans.

Miami-Dade’s water distribution network covers 7,700 miles and its wastewater mains and pipes traverse more than 6,000 miles. The systems serve 422,000 water customers and 340,000 retail wastewater consumers, in addition to wholesale water and sewer services to more than a dozen municipalities in the county.

Some system components are more than half a century old, and the report released this week by the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department covers the “most deteriorated and vulnerable” parts of the system.

The estimated cost of rehabilitating or replacing the most critical water and sewer facilities is estimated at $1.1 billion, the report said, noting that all of the critical projects “are of equal importance.”

The projects outlined in the report are included in ongoing talks with the EPA. However, additional projects could be added when a final consent decree is proposed, said Doug Yonder, deputy director of the Water and Sewer Department.

“One of the things that we don’t know yet from the standpoint of the consent decree is what the agreeable schedule will be for doing these projects,” Yonder said. “If it is different than what we’ve assumed in the capital budget for the next five years, then the timing of the finance plan will be affected.”

The county has been under a consent decree since 1994, but recent discussions with the EPA and Florida Department of Environmental Regulation developed in May this year. A complaint has not been filed in federal court because negotiations between regulators and the county have not been adversarial, according to Yonder.

He said he anticipates that a final consent decree will be proposed next spring.

Because fewer state and federal grants are available now than in the past, the county likely will have larger financings than previously anticipated.

“The implications of the report are that we’re going to be active in the bond market for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The county could be facing additional financing pressure because this week’s report does not include 90% of the other projects in the department’s 15-year capital plan.

Many of those are needed to do planned repairs or replacements of other aging system elements, or to meet population growth needs, according to Yonder. The planned projects alone are estimated to cost around $9 billion.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who is vice chair of the Infrastructure and Land Use Committee, asked in January for the comprehensive report on the county’s aging water and sewer infrastructure along with a cost analysis of repairing water and sewer lines and pipes.

A spokeswoman for Jordan said Thursday that the commissioner had not been able to read the entire report, and could not comment on its findings. The report is expected to be reviewed by several committees, and ultimately the full commission, in the coming bonds.

Miami-Dade has about $1.9 billion of outstanding water and sewer debt, and $124.2 million of long-term state revolving loans, according to the fiscal 2011 audit. The water and sewer revenue bonds are rated AA-minus by Fitch Ratings, Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service, and A-plus by Standard & Poor’s.




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