By Tom Lassiter and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
After years of delay, Broward officials are finally poised to tackle the hazard posed by hundreds of tons of lead that’s been accumulating at the Markham Park Target Range since it opened in the 1980s.
The gunfire has continued there at a fast and furious pace as the county dithered about what to do. But on May 22, the County Commission will consider proposals from five companies for cleaning up what county officials long have known was a festering, environmental mess posed by lead shot and clay targets in a small lake and an adjacent wooded area.
County staff reviewed and ranked the proposals in February. If the commission approves, county staff will begin negotiations with the top ranked firm, MT2 of Arvada, CO.
Clean-up work at the target range, on the edge of the Everglades off State Road 84 in Sunrise, could begin sometime this fall and take several months to complete.
“We think by doing this project, we will eliminate any (environmental) concerns,” said Dan West, director of Broward County Parks and Recreation since January 2010.
West said the county has found no evidence lead has moved into the underground water supply or adjacent wetlands, the primary environmental concern.
“We are routinely conducting tests on the surface water and the adjacent canals and there has been no evidence that the lead is migrating off site,” he said.
TOXIC LEAD IN GROUNDWATER?
In 2009, however, two independent experts told The Miami Herald that monitoring at the site was inadequate to accurately assess whether lead was leaching into groundwater.
Dr. Christopher Teaf, project director for the Center for Biomedical and Toxicological Research at Florida State University, said then that there was “plenty of evidence” that lead had migrated off-site at Markham Park. On Wednesday, he said he’s seen nothing since to change his opinion.
High concentrations of lead can cause brain and nerve damage in humans. Fish and birds can be similarly poisoned. At least two former workers at the target range have blamed health problems on years of lead exposure.
Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, whose district includes the park, said the clean up is now high priority. “It’s been a long time in the process,” she said.
County officials have been talking about a clean up for more than two decades. In 1991, the Sun-Sentinelreported that a county study had found lead contamination at the range, which was then attracting 60,000 target shooters a year.
Markham Park Target Range
In 1998, another county study found that the bottom of six-acre Shotgun Lake had a 350-ton layer of splintered clay targets five feet thick.
Limited clean up has been done at the rifle range, where spent slugs are removed and recycled from an earthen backstop every five to eight years. The county also installed a liner to prevent lead from polluting storm runoff.
In 2004, Florida lawmakers exempted gun range operators from local oversight. In response to concerns that the high cost of clean ups could interfere with gun rights. Instead, ranges were supposed to follow “environmental stewardship guidelines.”
The guidelines, issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, emphasized, “The one thing you can do immediately is to stop firing over and into surface water or wetlands.”
But that didn’t happen at Markham Park.
In 2009, officials talked about taking action, but the idea died in a severe budget squeeze.
COUNTY FINALLY TAKES ACTION
Last June, with Commissioner Kristin Jacobs absent, the commission voted 8-0 to seek cleanup proposals.
MT2′s plan came in at $2.7 million, West said. But that figure will be reduced by a credit to the county based on how much the company gets recycling and selling the lead. That could amount to $700,000 to $750,000, according to the company’s proposal.
”We got (proposals from) very reputable firms, and the number one ranked firm has done over 600″ similar clean ups, West said.
The other four companies didn’t submit specific costs, but did, as required, commit to completing the project within the county’s $2.2 million budget, which includes a later phase involving wetland mitigation.
Much of the upfront cost will be paid with revenue from the $1 lead remediation fee charged each shooter on top of the regular shooting fee. The county has about $865,000 in the lead reclamation reserve fund that will go toward the clean up, West said. The balance will be covered by future fees, he said.
The project calls for the removal of lead and clay target fragments from the Shotgun Lake and from five acres of wooded area directly north of the skeet and trap range. Non-native melaleuca trees in the area also will be removed, county officials have said.
MT2′s proposal disturbingly indicates that it expects to find hazardous levels of “leachable lead” in both lake sediment and “shot fall zone soils” that could impact surface and groundwater.
The work can be scheduled to assure shooters have access to the range at least eight hours a day and on weekends for most of the project, according to the firm’s proposal.
In the first phase, MT2 will remove all the vegetation and excavate and process the surface soil to remove lead from the soil down six inches or a foot depending on conditions.
The firm will then drain and excavate the lake, process sediment to remove lead, and fill the hole with new soil. During that phase, shooting might be restricted to weekends only for a period of one to two weeks, according to the proposed plan.
The entire project area will then be graded and covered with sod.
To entice commissioners to choose them, the firm also offered to assess additional areas impacted by lead shot that are outside of the immediate project area and to help the county develop an Environmental Stewardship Plan for the range.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Oakland Park Mayor Susanne Boisvenue, left and Broward Commissioner Ilene Lieberman
The Inspector General’s Office has been asked to investigate whether members of the county’s Resource Recovery Board have violated Broward’s tough new ethics code.
Oakland Park Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue, who quit the board in December, made the request late last month in an email obtained by Broward Bulldog.
Her concern: board members may be violating strict new rules that prohibit elected officials from interfering in how contractors are selected.
The board, known as the RRB, is the governing body of Broward’s Solid Waste Disposal District. Its members include nine elected commissioners and mayors from municipalities across the county, including Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman who serves as chair.
The possible interference involves who will get the billion-dollar job of disposing of much of Broward’s trash. The decision will affect how much homeowners and businesses pay for that service for years to come.
For the past three decades, trash giant Waste Management has had a lock on disposing of municipal trash that’s hauled to two Broward waste-to-energy incinerators. Both incinerators are owned and operated by Waste Management subsidiary, Wheelabrator Technologies.
But lately, an aggressive competitor whose public face is the politically influential west Broward landowner Ron Bergeron, threatens that monopoly.
Bergeron is pursing the contract in a partnership with Lantana-based Sun Recycling.
Boisvenue said she resigned from the RRB because of her concerns about the board’s repeated evaluations of various bid proposals, and plans to make a recommendation to the county commission. She believes the board, led by Lieberman, is trying to steer the contract to Waste Management.
“That’s exactly what I think,” the mayor said in an interview this week. “I think it crosses the line.”
Her email to Inspector General John Scott asks whether “the advisory RRB to the county should be involved in reviewing bids in any way.”
“I request that you investigate the matter,” she said.
Scott would not comment.
“We don’t confirm or deny whether we are investigating,” Scott said.
Broward’s ethics code says, “It shall be a conflict of interest for any elected official to serve as a voting member of a selection/evaluation committee in connection with any prospective procurement by the elected official’s governmental entity.”
Elected officials cannot serve on selection committees, nor can they “participate or interfere in any manner” at committee meetings. They can ask questions and express concerns only after the selection process is completed.
The new code took effect Jan. 2 for city officials. For county commissioners, it took effect when it was enacted in August.
While the RRB is not a selection committee, its voting members serve in a similar advisory capacity to the county commission. As elected officials in their own right, they would also be eligible to vote in their hometowns on any deal that might emerge through the RRB.
Since September, the RRB has discussed and rejected plans to issue its own request for proposals and advanced the idea of awarding a no-bid contract with Wheelabrator.
A DEAL IN THE WORKS
City managers from several RRB-member cities have been negotiating a deal directly with Wheelabrator, in meetings closed to both the public and disposal competitor Sun Bergeron.
The RRB heard an update on those negotiations Jan. 19 from Weston City Manager John Flint. He said cost has yet to be worked out, but the framework would be a five-year deal with options.
Broward Bulldog reported last week that after Flint appeared before the RRB, Broward Commissioner Lieberman said that she will shortly bring to the full county commission the concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement.
On Monday, via email, Lieberman called Boisvenue’s assertion of contract-steering “preposterous.”
“No one…is trying to steer anything to Wheelabrator and the correct chronology of events and what ..the RRB (has) determined have been explained to Mayor Boisvenue many times. However, she seems incapable of understanding these important details,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman said, too, that Boisvenue was “misinterpreting the county’s ethics ordinance.” As proof, she cited a three-page legal opinion dated Feb. 6 by RRB lawyer Eugene Steinfeld. The opinion was written in response to a Jan. 25 inquiry from Oakland Park Assistant City Manager Horace McHugh.
Steinfeld acknowledged that the RRB “is expected to consider matters of vendor selection” and “may be considering the award of a contract.” Nevertheless, he wrote, “I believe this would not be in violation of the county’s new ethics code ordinance.”
The RRB’s current push for a no-bid contract resurrects a scenario that county commissioners rejected in December 2010 after cities objected that disposal rates the board had negotiated were too high. That proposal called for a 10-year, $1.5 billion no-bid deal with Wheelabrator.
Outrage about how the RRB pushed that deal led the Miramar City Commission to go out for bids on their own. The prices it received through competitive bidding were significantly less than those contained in the initial Wheelabrator proposal.
But Miramar has yet to actually award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on, and no date has been set to do so. That that has created uncertainty that’s allowed renewed talk of a no-bid deal for Wheelabrator.
Reporter Buddy Nevins contributed to this report
By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Wheelabrator North plant in Pompano Beach
The bruising battle over which firm can tap into Broward County’s multi-million dollar waste stream is back to where it started: With a no bid deal.
“This is another debacle. In my opinion, such non-competitive arrangements are bad governmental practice,” said Phil Medico, a lawyer with upstart Sun Bergeron, which is seeking to bid competitively for Broward’s waste disposal business.
At stake are the costs of garbage disposal for residents and businesses for years into the future. Also at stake are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of earnings for companies seeking to dispose of Broward’s trash.
The fight for the lucrative deal has pitted two powerful corporate players – Wheelabrator Technologies, a subsidiary of the sprawling multinational Waste Management disposal titan, and Sun Bergeron, a new creation of the real estate/development/rock pit mogul Ron Bergeron. Both are fielding teams of lobbyists and attorneys.
Wheelabrator has held the current contract for decades.
Homeowners and businesses pay a single fee for two separate parts of garbage removal. A hauler picks up and delivers trash to a disposal site. A disposal firm sorts the waste for recyclable material and then buries or burns the remainder.
The current struggle is over the second part of the process – disposal.
A NEW DEAL EMERGES
Wheelabrator doesn’t want to lose its exclusive government contract, or share it. With its contract expiring next year, the firm fashioned a no-bid deal with County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman and the county’s Resource Recovery Board.
But some cities balked. An after ferocious lobbying by Sun Bergeron, Wheelabrator’s $1.5 billion, no-bid contract was rejected by the county commission a year ago with critics calling the extension a bad deal.
A new version of the no-bid Wheelabrator deal surfaced last month at the Resource Recovery Board. Called the RRB in the industry, the board is a group of city and county officials whose job is to find a regional solution for waste disposal. The idea: to develop an alternative in case a plan by Miramar to put a bid out for disposal services – a bid other cities could use – faltered.
The new deal discussed at the RRB is being negotiated between Wheelabrator and a handful of city managers led by Weston’s John Flint. The talks between Wheelabrator and the managers have been going on quietly for a year.
Those meetings are closed to the public, and to Sun Bergeron. A Sun Bergeron representative who tried to attend was turned away. Although the talks are being held in private, any agreement will have to be ratified by commissioners of various cities at public meetings, said Flint.
Flint told the RRB that the city managers are discussing a five-year deal starting next year with options beyond that date. He conceded the group still has to work out the cost.
Whatever the eventual agreement on price, Sun Bergeron says lower prices can always be obtained through a competitive process.
For proof, Sun Bergeron points to Miramar. Miramar City Commissioners were so upset with the no-bid deal that the county was pushing last year that officials went out to bid on their own. The prices it received through competitive bidding were roughly half those contained in the initial Wheelabrator proposal.
Medico, which won the bidding, said Miramar’s experience proved what should be done for the entire county – competitive bidding for disposal.
“The beneficiaries are the residents,” he said.
Still, Miramar has yet to actually award a contract that other cities might want to piggyback on. And that has created uncertainty that’s offering new hope for a deal to Wheelabrator.
“The question is what’s Miramar going to do, and when are they going to do it?” said an official at another city.
LEAVING WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Wheelabrator’s supporters say the firm has done a superb job since the 1980s disposing of millions of tons of garbage from 26 of the county’s 31 cities.
“If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Beam Furr, a Hollywood city commissioner and member of the Resource Recovery Board.
Other officials say that Sun Bergeron is untested and they doubt it can deliver cheaper rates, despite winning the Miramar bidding that featured rates at $9.25-per-ton less than Wheelabrator. They point out that Sun Bergeron owns no landfills or waste-to-energy plants in Broward and will have to ship garbage a longer distance. Wheelabrator owns two local processing facilities– one along Florida’s Turnpike in North Broward and the other just south of Interstate 595 on U. S. 441.
Flint said the safety of signing with Wheelabrator is one reason he is negotiating an agreement with just that firm.
“The agreement eliminates risk” by tightening the agreement to protect the cities, Flint said.
Backers of Wheelabrator said they preferred a firm with a proven track record instead of a newcomer like Sun Bergeron.
Medico bristled when asked about accusations that Sun Bergeron’s competency was being questioned.
Southern Waste Systems, Bergeron’s partner in Broward disposal, has dozens of municipal and industrial clients including Fisher Island in Miami-Dade County, where the waste must be barged to the Port of Miami, shipped to Broward for recycling and what’s left sent to a landfill in another part of the state. “This is a walk in the park compared to that,” he said.
Bergeron picks up hurricane debris in dozens of cities and counties, plus is rebuilding Interstate 595. “Do you really think that the guy who coordinates hundreds of different tasks to build 595 can’t dispose of waste? Ridiculous,” said Aleida “Ali” Waldman, Bergeron’s general counsel.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick towards the end of Wheelabrator’s current 20-year contract, which expires in the summer of 2013. The company is pushing hard for the no-bid renewal.
“Due to our experience, expertise, and 20-year record of success, we believe Wheelabrator can provide the cities the most economical and environmentally sound waste disposal agreement,” William Roberts, Wheelabrator’s vice president of operations wrote in a letter distributed at the RRB.
But when questioned at the meeting by Lieberman to discuss just how economical Wheelabrator was willing to be, Roberts said he wasn’t authorized to publicly talk about prices.
Lieberman isn’t waiting. She will shortly bring to the county commission the general concept of a new no-bid Wheelabrator deal, but no firm agreement.
The outline of Flint and the city manager’s no-bid agreement with Wheelabrator will be made public in February or March.
And Sun Bergeron will continue to push for competitive bidding everywhere.