Miami Beach pollution is creating a silent tide in our Biscayne Bay

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Grant Miller, Publisher

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring more than 56 years ago. In this landmark work of environmental writing, she described how the use of chemicals by farmers, including DDT, had the consequence of wiping out the population of birds. And because no species exists entirely by itself, the death of birds and a spring devoid of birdsong, meant the coming destruction of our environment.

Miami Beach has brought a silent tide to Biscayne Bay and the consequences for sea life in South Florida are just as dire as those described by Carson in 1962.

Only the most pig-headed, obtuse, or foolishly blind would deny the effects of global warming. Objective measurements show that our global temperatures have been ratcheting consistently upward. Each new year brings an all-new record as the hottest ever on the books. 

It only makes sense. Ice-core measurements show that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, commonly called “greenhouse gasses,” have steadily increased since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th Century. 

Low-lying areas like Miami Beach are on the front line of sea-level rise and climate change. But it’s the way that Miami Beach reacted to it that is causing more problems than it’s fixing.

Former Miami Beach Mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine came into office with the goal of saving us all from the flooding that was inundating his island city. Always more concerned with doing “something” than doing “something right,” Levine proposed a program of expensive pumps to move flood waters out into the ocean and Biscayne Bay.

The Miami Beach City Commission bought into his ill-conceived plan. How ill conceived? Well, for one – and get ready, it’s a big one – the city failed to account for the possibility that this network of electric pumps might lose power in the event of storm. Tropical Storm Emily showed just how short-sighted Levine was. Because, when the city lost power, the pumps stopped working. And the water backed up into homes and businesses. 

But even when the pumps are working, they cause problems that our environment may never recover from.

In his rush to protecting primarily the areas where Levine owned property, such as his business office and other parcels, he built the pumping system without first getting clearance from the County’s Department of Environmental Management. He built it so that all surface water, and all the contaminants found on city streets, like automotive oil and human and animal waste, would be flushed out to sea.

So it turns out that Levine has turned our beloved Biscayne Bay into a big toilet. And now all of that pollution is killing off vital sea grasses in Biscayne Bay, the very sea grass beds that serve as nurseries for small marine animals and fish.

This begs the question, what will become of the fishing business here, which is such an important part of our economy? What will become of this abundant local food source and major recreational attraction that draws so many tourists to South Florida?

The answer is, the death of the bay has the potential to kill it all. And Phil didn’t care. He wanted to be seen as a man of action. He knew he needed captivating film clips and sincere sound bites for his statewide election campaign.

The annoying thing is that the Miami Beach Commission, with Levine gone, has not even taken meaningful steps to stop the pumping of dirty surface water into the bay and the Atlantic.

Miami Beach’s new mayor, Dan Gelber, likes to portray himself as an open and transparent crusader. But on the issue of doing something about the rivers of filthy street waters, Gelber has remained strangely silent.

Biscayne Bay isn’t dead – yet. The City of Miami Beach, with its plumes of black water hasn’t killed it yet.

But the day may soon come when spring will find the bay still and silent, the grasses gone, its fragile ecosystem murdered. If not premeditated, then clearly the waters around us will be victims of manslaughter. And if that day comes, we will have to hold both Phil Levine and Dan Gelber accountable, the former for doing without thinking and the latter for thinking without doing.

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