Where will Miami-Dade’s new trash incinerator go? Doral and Miramar don’t want it

Miami-Dade County wants a new place to burn its trash, and the hunt has already gotten messy.

Doral residents urged commissioners to follow through on a plan by Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to end the city’s role as home to the county’s incinerator and the burning of about a million tons of garbage each year. Levine Cava is recommending a new incinerator go up eight miles away on an idle county airfield near the edge of the Everglades off of Krome Avenue and just south of the Broward County line.

That plan for a modern incinerator on the former Opa-locka Airport West site sparked promises of protests with regulators and potential civil-rights objections from Miramar, the Broward municipality with a large Black population that’s less than a mile from the proposed site.

“Because our backs are against the wall, we have no choice but to protect the interests of our residents,” Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam told commissioners. “Miramar doesn’t want to be in this adversarial position. But we have no choice.”

READ MORE: Mayor wants Doral trash incinerator to stay closed after fire, rebuild near Everglades

The cross-county clash traces its roots to the Feb. 12 fire that shut down the county incinerator, which was isolated when it opened in the early 1980s well before Doral incorporated as a municipality but has since seen new residential developments built within a third of a mile of the facility. City residents in blue T-shirts with the slogan “For clean and pure air” urged commissioners to finally move the incinerator away from their homes.

“I come here with my family,” Ranghiv Acurero said while holding his 2-year-old son, Oliver, in his arms at the lectern where members of the public address the board. “We hope that no other community has to suffer what we have.”

The meeting ended with commissioners approving the main parts of Levine Cava’s proposal, but with one change opposed by Doral:

Study the costs and time needed to get state and federal permits for three sites Levine Cava recommended: Opa-locka Airport West, the existing site in Doral and a third location that is privately owned near the existing Medley landfill and a residential area. Commissioners rejected the Levine Cava request to rank the current Doral site as the county’s third choice if permits aren’t viable for either Airport West or Medley. For now, commissioners voted to consider them equally.

Commissioners voted to declare the current incinerator permanently closed, as Levine Cava recommended. Covanta, the private operator that runs the facility on a county contract, had lobbied for Miami-Dade to spend about $35 million from insurance proceeds to partially repair the facility and take pressure off landfills that are now the county’s only option for trash disposal. A county consultant said the proposal would cost $500 million over 10 years and wasn’t worth the cost.

Look for a report in early ‘24

After the meeting, Levine Cava said she expected a preliminary analysis of the three sites’ prospects by early 2024. Those reports will include feedback from regulators on permitting hurdles for each as a future “waste-to-energy” facility, as well as studying where exhaust and odors from a modern incinerator would likely travel.

The Levine Cava administration is pitching new technology for burning trash as sharply reducing the odors that plague the Doral facility. A modern “mass burn” plant can speed the incineration process enough to eliminate the time smelly raw garbage sits in the facility.

“That is a really old plant that was built in the 1970s,” said Christopher Tilman, a consultant with Arcadis, a company Miami-Dade hired to analyze its Solid Waste system. “It is not at all what the current technology is.”

Christi Fraga, Doral’s mayor, urged commissioners to consider what the current incinerator has meant for residents living nearby. “The price for these families is their health and their quality of life,” she said.

Commissioner Juan Carlos Bermudez, Fraga’s predecessor as mayor, was the only no vote against the resolution, saying he wanted to keep Levine Cava’s recommendation to consider the current site as a backup only if Airport West and Medley weren’t viable.

Everglades restoration or garbage incineration?

The Airport West site is being considered for use in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a long-running federal effort that Levine Cava cited as a reason to reject a South Dade industrial project on land that is also being considered for creating wetlands and other uses that can help with water flow and drainage. The mayor said she’s confident a modern incinerator plant won’t cause environmental issues on the proposed site, but that will be part of the regulatory review approved Tuesday.

“Obviously I’m very involved in Everglades restoration,” Levine Cava told commissioners. “I’m very concerned about that issue.”

By opting not to repair the Doral incinerator, commissioners are shifting all of Miami-Dade’s garbage disposal both inside and outside of the county. A new incinerator is expected to take about 10 years to build and cost more than $1 billion. Several commissioners said they were wary of relying solely on landfills for a decade or more.

“Nobody has assured me there is enough landfill capacity to get us through the next 12 to 15 years,” Commissioner Eileen Higgins said.

Oliver Gilbert, the commission’s chair, said he was sympathetic to Miramar’s objections because homeowners there would see an incinerator built nearby while in Doral, people purchased real estate next to an existing plant.

“All people aren’t similarly situated,” he said. “And that’s not to say that I’m against moving the site, because I think that can be done.”