Location Of Post-Irma Debris Piles Is Not 'Environmental Racism,' Miami-Dade Officials Say

Oct 25, 2017

Responding to Facebook posts accusing them of unfairly dumping debris in underserved neighborhoods, Miami-Dade County officials said Tuesday the foliage downed by Irma is a problem shared by everyone in the county.

“Hurricane Irma generated debris all over the county, so we established sites that are strategically located and help to maximize the productivity and efficiency of contracted debris haulers,” Gayle Love, spokeswoman for the Department of Solid Waste Management, wrote in an email. “We continue to look for additional staging sites as we manage an unprecedented 3 million cubic yards of debris.”

[The debris] sits in front of homes and next to a park. It shouldn't be there - Valencia Gunder

The response came after dozens of comments on a Facebook post accusing the county of “environmental racism” for heaping a mountain of branches and leaves at the Poinciana Industrial Park near Northwest 79th Street and 22nd Avenue. Photos showed debris towering above a dump truck and drew complaints that the pile contains rats, roaches and stinking garbage, in addition to foliage.

“This couldn’t have happened in Pinecrest or Coral Gables!” wrote one Facebook user, posting as SuperHerbs Von.

“Who knows what that material brings? And it's rainy season, so the runoff from it could have all type of nasty in it,” commented another, Ray L. Holloway.

Others said they worry about a possible fire hazard and are disgusted by the stench. They echoed the concerns of people in the Friends of Virginia Key Facebook group, who are monitoring a similarly enormous debris pile in Virginia Key Beach Park.

A debris pile on Virginia Key, as seen from the Virginia Key Outdoor Center in front of Jimbo's Lagoon. (Click on the image to expand)
Credit Blanca Mesa / via Facebook

Love, the solid waste department spokeswoman, said the county debris management plan identified temporary staging sites before the storm. The sites must be a minimum of 10 acres and have entrances and exits that are easy for debris haulers to access.

“All of the sites are on county-owned land and are approved for use as temporary sites by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the [county] Department of Environmental Resources Management,” she said. “Some of the sites are currently being used by other government agencies for debris staging.”

Love said the county is operating five debris staging sites beyond the Poinciana Industrial Park: the West Kendall District Park, the Old South Dade Landfill, the Homestead Air Reserve Park, the Northwest 58th Street Landfill and Opa-locka Airport West.

That information didn’t satisfy Valencia Gunder, who posted the photos that drew “environmental racism” accusations against the county.

“Our site is in a PARK, not a landfill, not an airport,” Gunder, an environmental justice activist who lives near the Poinciana site, wrote in a Facebook message to WLRN. “[The debris] sits in front of homes and next to a park. It shouldn't be there.”

Love said the debris delivered to the county’s six staging sites is ground up and taken to final disposal sites overseen by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She says the county debris staging sites will be operational through at least January.