The Florida House and Senate on May 3 approved spending $3 million to dredge the Miami River. The vote, awaiting Gov. Jeb Bush's signature, sets the stage for the first dredging and comprehensive cleanup of the river in nearly 70 years.
"This is great news for the citizens of South Florida and a major turning point in our long efforts to clean up the river," said Robert L. Parks, chair of the Miami River Commission.
"This river's the source of a lot of the state's maritime trade with the Caribbean. And Biscayne Bay's health depends on this cleanup. Once we secure the county's support, things should start coming together quickly. We couldn't have done this without the support of our Miami-Dade delegation and especially chair Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart."
Two Miami-Dade delegation members, Sen. Ron Silver and Rep. Carlos Lacasa, sponsored the bills in their respective chambers.
On April 13, the Miami City Commission unanimously approved paying $1.009 million a year for the next five years for its share of the dredging costs.
On May 9, Miami-Dade County Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Jimmy Morales put forth a proposal for the county to formally sponsor the dredging and allocate a similar share of the dredging costs. Commissioner Barreiro has been one of the river's staunchest champions in the last several years.
If the commission votes to dredge, work can begin late this year or in early 2001.
Already, the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting surveys and taking pre-dredging samples.
The dredging allocation was part of House Bill 2145, and included in the General Appropriations Act for 2000-2001.
In spring 1999, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the federal government would pay 80 percent of the estimated dredging cost over the five-year, $80 million project. That decision made dredging feasible. Of the estimated $20 million local share, the state would pay 50 percent, and the city and county 25 percent each.
Dredging the river is critical for both the environment and the shipping industry that depends so much on this working river. Sediments in the river are contaminated with heavy metals and petroleum-based pollutants as a result of nearly seven decades of storm water runoff. As Biscayne Bay's largest tributary, the 5.5-mile river is vital to the bay's health.
In addition, dredging is needed for trade. Only dredging can remove the accumulated silt that has narrowed the channel and thereby limited maritime commerce traffic to high tide.