sewage plant
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Florida's Miami-Dade County has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to invest $1.6 billion to repair the dilapidated water and sewer pipes in the area over the next 15 years, the Miami Herald reported this week.

The consent decree forces the county to upgrade its sewage system because its current condition has resulted in sewage spills that are in violation of environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act. In addition, Miami-Dade will have to pay $15 million for maintenance and management costs, $2 million from general-obligation bond funds to have sewers installed in an industrial and commercial area north of the Miami River in an effort to reduce water pollution, a $978,100 civil fine and further $825,000 to hire an external monitor to oversee whether the agreement is properly implemented.

The terms of the degree have been a matter of heated discussion between the county and the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for more than a year. The decree will have to be approved by all three agencies and after that it has to be sent to a federal judge in Miami for further approval. If it is not implemented, heavier financial penalties could be imposed on the county, the Miami Herald noted.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the board that good infrastructure was a key element of any world-class city and water and sewer infrastructure was the most important part of it. If the system was not repaired and modernized, the city could face wastewater problems that could leave it exposed to disease, he commented.

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The Miami-Dade commission approved the consent decree by a 12 to one vote. Commissioner Javier Souto, the only one who voted against the agreement, claimed that he would not support measures that would cost taxpayers higher water bills over the next few years because residents of Miami-Dade cannot afford to finance any of the repair work, the Miami Herald reported. His opinion was not shared by the remaining commissioners and the majority decided that the water infrastructure should be renovated. Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa commented that the project was not something the board liked but it had to be serious about its duties.

According to the newspaper, it is planned that quarterly water bills will rise by about 33 percent over the next five years, up from $135, which is one of the lowest in the country, to $185. The mayor will propose an 8 percent hike in next year's budget, with further increases to follow over the following four years. Despite the fact that commissioners were not pleased with the impending bill increase, they said that the extra money residents will pay each month will not be higher than "a Starbucks cup of coffee."

An environmentalist group, the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, had asked to comment on the decree but a public hearing was not scheduled and Chairwoman Sosa did not allow the activists to speak, the Miami Herald said.