The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral

Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado talks about balancing a fast-growing city with the environment

September 19, 2022 Oscar Corral
Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado talks about balancing a fast-growing city with the environment
The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
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The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado talks about balancing a fast-growing city with the environment
Sep 19, 2022
Oscar Corral

Miami Dade District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado talks about balancing the wants of developers with the needs of wild areas around Miami such as Biscayne Bay and the everglades. “Are we doing everything we can do to have that balance?” she asks. As a sitting elected leader in Florida’s most populous county, Raquel explains how policy at the local level can help environmental issues. She disucsses concepts such as encouraging more xeriscaping with native plants, and converting septic tanks to sewer systems to reduce nutrient pollution into our waters. “So many people politicize it now,” she says of the environment, as she laments that the issue is not seen as being in everyone’s best interest. “We are all stewards of our environment.” 


Show Notes Transcript

Miami Dade District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado talks about balancing the wants of developers with the needs of wild areas around Miami such as Biscayne Bay and the everglades. “Are we doing everything we can do to have that balance?” she asks. As a sitting elected leader in Florida’s most populous county, Raquel explains how policy at the local level can help environmental issues. She disucsses concepts such as encouraging more xeriscaping with native plants, and converting septic tanks to sewer systems to reduce nutrient pollution into our waters. “So many people politicize it now,” she says of the environment, as she laments that the issue is not seen as being in everyone’s best interest. “We are all stewards of our environment.” 


00:00:02:10 - 00:00:14:04
Unknown
Welcome to the nature of Florida, the Sunshine State's only podcast dedicated to its wild and natural places and the fight to preserve them. I'm your host, Oscar Corral. I've dedicated much of my career to making films about environmental issues.

00:00:14:04 - 00:00:30:03
Unknown
Tune in each week to hear from a broad range of voices from scientists to surfers, activists to mermaids who are working on the front lines to save what's left of Florida's natural beauty and its wildlife. Hello, everybody, and welcome to a new episode of The Nature of Florida podcast.

00:00:30:13 - 00:00:47:18
Unknown
With me today is District Seven Commissioner Raquel Regalado, the first Miami born Hispanic woman to serve on the Miami-Dade commission. Raquel, a lawyer by trade, is also the host of several radio and television programs in Spanish that focus on informing people about politics and local issues.

00:00:48:12 - 00:01:03:07
Unknown
Her voice on the Commission on Environmental Issues is usually moderate a balance between the constant want of developers and industry and the vulnerable and priceless wilderness areas that surround Miami, Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. Welcome, Raquel.

00:01:04:05 - 00:01:17:06
Unknown
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you. So let's start with some just basic stuff. You serve on the Miami Dade Commission. What is the native Miami like? We have to explain that. We have to start like we have to.

00:01:17:07 - 00:01:32:08
Unknown
What is a native Miami? There you go. What is a native Miami? And I guess you and I fall into that category. What is it? And it was it's it's important because a lot of folks, you know, for many, many years, Miami was this transitory place.

00:01:32:08 - 00:01:46:00
Unknown
Right. And one of the things that we try to explain to people as native Miamians, when we talk about the environment or we talk about infrastructure and, you know, the Everglades and all that stuff is a lot of these folks have places to return to.

00:01:46:08 - 00:02:02:07
Unknown
You know, they're from somewhere else, you know? So when they think about what they're going to do with their kids and their grandkids, you know, they go somewhere else. Miami was a place where people came to play or to stay for a little bit while they waited, you know, to go back to wherever they were from.

00:02:02:13 - 00:02:20:08
Unknown
And I think that really explains to a lot of folks why there's such a difference between the native Miami and mindset, you know, and other Miami ends. And although we always say if you live here for more than ten years, will adopt you as a native, you know, if you were born and raised here, this is your

00:02:20:09 - 00:02:41:00
Unknown
home. Like, you're not going on vacation to somewhere else. You're not spending Christmas somewhere else. Like this is your home. I just turned 48 years old. I was born in 1974 in a very different Miami, you know. And when we talk to people about like the Miami of our childhood, the frustration is that our children and our

00:02:41:00 - 00:02:57:07
Unknown
grandchildren are not going to experience Miami as we experienced it. You know, things as basic as the trees, you know, and the landscape. I mean, I try to remind my fellow commissioners that are that are younger and the ones that haven't been here that long.

00:02:57:12 - 00:03:11:22
Unknown
When I was a kid, Miami Dade County ended in Kendall Drive like that was it like that was no man's land, you know, it was it had a very small footprint. You know, I actually learned to ride my bike and roller skate on Brickell.

00:03:12:20 - 00:03:25:23
Unknown
Brickell was a safe street for kids to play in when I was a child because it only had three buildings and it had no lights. I tell people that growing up, the smell of mangroves was the smell of my childhood.

00:03:25:23 - 00:03:46:03
Unknown
Like, I want someone to like the smell of sulfur in a candle, because it reminds me of growing up, you know, in old Miami and Brickell was full of mangroves. And now when, you know, people who came here recently complain about the flooding in Brickell, it flooded when I was a child, you know, and what protected it

00:03:46:04 - 00:04:06:02
Unknown
was these mangroves, you know. And, you know, one of the things that we try to explain to folks is that we've always had this tension between development and the environment here. And if you grew up in Florida, I don't know if you remember, but in fourth grade, we actually took Florida history in in the seventies and eighties

00:04:06:02 - 00:04:21:02
Unknown
. That was like a class. And I remember the first chapter of Florida history was the fight against water. And it really has been a fight against water. And now we face all these issues with water quality, with our aquifers.

00:04:21:07 - 00:04:40:21
Unknown
When we were kids, we had to learn our aquifers. And, you know, if you grew up in New York or you grew up somewhere else, you may not know about the Biscayne Aquifer. You may not know, you know, how our you know how limestone works, you know, in Florida and why it's so important not to pollute, you

00:04:40:21 - 00:04:57:22
Unknown
know, our environment because it goes directly into a very shallow aquifer. So, you know, when you grow up in Florida, you know, everything from, you know, Everglades being a beautiful park to us and to other people, it's kind of like a mosquito infested, like disaster, you know?

00:04:58:08 - 00:05:14:02
Unknown
Yeah. Love it. You know, like, it's it's a place that we went as children, you know, and and it's it's a different kind of take. And it's interesting because now our kids are native Miamians, but their experience is not our experience.

00:05:14:03 - 00:05:33:07
Unknown
They don't have access to the things that we had access to because we've grown so much and Miami has become so urban and so developed. And that's why we fight for parks and for trails. You know, I would say yeah, I would say that there is no urban area in the United States, in the continental United States

00:05:33:15 - 00:05:53:02
Unknown
that is walking more of a fine line between the needs of developers and the vulnerability of of environmental areas like Miami. Miami is the third densest skyline in the United States after New York and Chicago, and it is straddled by two national parks, Biscayne on one side and the Everglades on the other.

00:05:53:08 - 00:06:10:18
Unknown
Miami has nowhere left to grow but up. Add to that the possibility that it could flood with sea level rise in the next century. And it's a very vulnerable place. And yet, exactly as you said, Miami. Does not have this spirit of environmentalism traditionally.

00:06:11:00 - 00:06:28:01
Unknown
And I think it's exactly for the reasons you said that it's such a transitory city, it's a transient place. It's a lot of people are itinerant citizens and residents who move here as a stepping stone in their career, as a stepping stone to another place they want to get to or are visiting from another country or from

00:06:28:01 - 00:06:50:00
Unknown
another state. I think that Miami has the potential to be one of the most environmentally. Progressive cities in learning how to mix and balance development and nature. And and it starts with people like you, people in leadership positions who are making decisions on a daily basis about what's what's going to happen.

00:06:50:11 - 00:07:12:07
Unknown
And so I want to ask you about that. What is what is it like to sit in that seat where you are having to weigh these these these considerations on a regular basis between people and developers who want to come and do something, build something in Miami or develop an area, and then the Everglades, which is our

00:07:12:07 - 00:07:30:18
Unknown
water supply and also a place of international fame for its its wilderness, pristine wilderness, or at least, you know, sometimes pristine wilderness. And, you know, Biscayne Bay, which is then Biscayne National Park, which are these beautiful jewels we have in our backyard that don't exist anywhere else in the United States.

00:07:30:19 - 00:07:52:07
Unknown
What's it like? Well, you know, it's challenging because like you said, I think I agree with you. I think that we are like the epicenter of these choices. Right. I think in other places, people look at the decisions that government is making and they look out ten years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years and think, well, what

00:07:52:07 - 00:08:07:12
Unknown
are these decisions? How are they going to impact us in those decades? I think in Miami-Dade County, because of the contamination of the bay, because of the issues that we've had historically with the Everglades, because of our water system and how dependent we are on it.

00:08:07:17 - 00:08:19:10
Unknown
You know, we look at much shorter timelines, right? The decisions that we're making right now, like right now, like this year, we're like, yeah, we didn't have a fish kill. I mean, that's like crazy talk, but that is where we're at.

00:08:19:10 - 00:08:32:15
Unknown
Like our environment is that fragile, you know, that we try to explain to folks like, listen, we didn't have fish killed, but now the state of Florida found that the oysters are, you know, contaminated. And what is that going to cost?

00:08:32:15 - 00:08:51:19
Unknown
Right. And how are we going to ensure that those habitats like survive? But at the same time, we have, like the University of Miami and other partners, if I you is doing great work and they're putting together really innovative things like we're doing a lot of work here in terms of gray and green infrastructure, right?

00:08:51:19 - 00:09:05:23
Unknown
Like how can we like mesh these two things? So for you, when you and we're both working on sea walls that are part artificial, part alive, you know, how can we bring back, right, what we used to have in Miami-Dade County?

00:09:05:23 - 00:09:24:03
Unknown
One of the first things I did as a as a county commissioner was bring an ordinance to create a mangrove map that looks historically at where the mangroves used to be and tries to educate people on where we lost mangroves and the correlation between the loss of those mangroves and and flooding.

00:09:24:03 - 00:09:37:05
Unknown
Right. Because people when when they see mangroves, they like, oh, it's obstructing my view. So you're like, well, it's protecting you from the water, you know? So, you know, and another thing that we talk about is elevation, right?

00:09:37:06 - 00:09:53:17
Unknown
So elevation, you know, flooding. We just had a small flooding incident, you know, and we didn't get nearly as much rain as we were supposed to. And we had serious issues here in Miami-Dade County. And one of the things that we're seeing back to your point about development is, you know, the houses that were built in the

00:09:53:17 - 00:10:11:15
Unknown
thirties, forties and fifties were elevated by several feet and built on a bluff. Why? Because they knew that this place had the propensity to flood, you know, the development that was made in the seventies, eighties and nineties, you know, before the change in the code in the 2000, they had no free board.

00:10:11:18 - 00:10:33:15
Unknown
Right. So they are right at level now where required, you know, a few feet of reward, but it's not nearly, you know, what they used to do decades ago. And as we look at creating a more resilient Miami, the question is, you know, are we doing everything that we can do to have that balance where we have

00:10:33:15 - 00:10:50:14
Unknown
development? But at the same time, we're aware of the impact that that development has. So, you know, right now we have a housing crisis and a lot of folks are using that as an excuse to kind of set aside these environmental issues and be like, oh, no, no, we have to build you know, we have a housing

00:10:50:14 - 00:11:02:16
Unknown
crisis. But, you know, I'm a firm believer in not single family is not the future. I know that people don't like to hear that because people love single family. But as you were saying, it's not sustainable long term.

00:11:02:21 - 00:11:19:00
Unknown
Not in Miami, Miami's Miami, Miami's out of land. I mean, unless you you look at the urban development boundary, which we'll get to. But yeah. Yeah, I I'm I'm with you. You're right. Miami is growing up vertically because horizontally it just there's nowhere else left to grow in Miami.

00:11:19:00 - 00:11:34:06
Unknown
So denser development is going to be the only way to really expand. If we're going to grow more housing here, it's you know, there's no more no more fields left where you can just pave over a forest and build, you know, a thousand homes that we ran out of that decades ago.

00:11:34:19 - 00:11:45:23
Unknown
But but there is something, you know, that we try to talk to people about, because I think especially with Hispanics, right. You know, when you start talking about environmental issues, you kind of lose people because it's just too much.

00:11:45:24 - 00:11:57:15
Unknown
It's just too much. Like everybody just feels like, you know what that's going to happen like in the future. Like, what can I do about that? But, you know, one of the things people been working at the county is educating folks on their landscaping and their landscaping choices.

00:11:57:16 - 00:12:11:02
Unknown
You know, we love our fruit trees. And and, you know, we I have areas in my my district where we've taken out invasive plants and people get very upset because they have a beautiful canopy, but they're invasive and they're doing damage.

00:12:11:02 - 00:12:24:17
Unknown
Right. And we need to plant native plants. We need to bring back those native plants that help us with the flooding, that help us with the mitigation of water. You know, it does it all have to be a fruit tree, nothing against fruit trees.

00:12:24:22 - 00:12:37:09
Unknown
You know, although I do get a lot of heat from my dad, because one of the things one of my issues is that I don't like. Trees are not trees. You know, they don't help with anything. They don't provide anything to our environment.

00:12:37:17 - 00:12:53:03
Unknown
So when I sit as a commissioner on the zoning side, I don't count palm trees. You know, they don't count. I think they're completely ornamental, if you like them, great. You know. But as far as I'm concerned and scientifically speaking, they're herbs, they're not trees.

00:12:53:09 - 00:13:06:01
Unknown
You know, they really don't help our environment. So, you know, we try to promote, you know, gumbo, lindos buttonwood. These are like fast growing trees that provide canopy and, you know, so there are things that people can do.

00:13:06:02 - 00:13:17:13
Unknown
You know, one of the anomalies that we're seeing is this like Astroturf, people are loving this Astroturf. You know, a lot of it is not permeable. The same thing with pavers. You know, we need to have permeable surfaces.

00:13:17:20 - 00:13:39:03
Unknown
So there are limits that we can educate people on, you know, so that, you know, the spaces that we have can be more friendly towards our environment and kind of work with our environment. But we are talking a lot about density and and also, you know, we're moving towards density because economically speaking, it just doesn't make sense

00:13:39:06 - 00:13:59:03
Unknown
, you know, I mean, people just can't we're having a lot of generational living. I'm bringing items, you know, that will promote, you know, everything from auxiliary units, you know, to in-law quarter. So, you know, this again, speaking of like a generational change, you know, the new generation of Miamians can't afford to live here.

00:13:59:22 - 00:14:17:05
Unknown
So the question is, how do we change the way that we live so that they can reside here and so that we can reside here as we retire? Because post-pandemic, you know, we've had this tremendous influx of wealth and it really has changed the character, you know, of our real estate market.

00:14:17:14 - 00:14:28:23
Unknown
I like what you're saying. You're pointing out a problem that so many communities wish they had, which is, you know, this is such a popular place and so beloved that where where do we stick people who want to live here?

00:14:28:23 - 00:14:40:17
Unknown
I mean, there's so many people want to move here, and that's a great problem to have. Miami's Miami's awesome. Miami's the best Miami is. There's no place like it in the world, really. It's such a such an interesting place and such an open place.

00:14:40:17 - 00:14:56:08
Unknown
It's so welcoming of different cultures and people. And so we have a good problem, which is that people want to come, you know, want to move here. Gosh, that's that's amazing. But that brings challenges, as you're saying. And I think one of the challenges which you hit upon earlier is how to create environmental awareness among people who

00:14:56:08 - 00:15:12:17
Unknown
move here. And so I want to ask you, as for me, as a Cuban-American growing up in Miami, I didn't really have a lot of exposure to environmental issues at home, to say the least. I mean, you know, maybe I'd go out and pick some oranges and my dad would ask me to pick some oranges for the

00:15:12:17 - 00:15:26:09
Unknown
tree in the backyard. Maybe that's about the extent of his interaction with trees. But but yet I still found my way to becoming an environmentally conscious person over the years. It wasn't an overnight thing. So I want to ask you, how was your journey?

00:15:26:09 - 00:15:42:24
Unknown
What what triggered that sentiment in you? Because I see that you're active on the commission as a voice of reason for environmental issues. How did you get there? Well, growing up, Cuban-American like the environment is just not like on the radar.

00:15:43:13 - 00:16:00:12
Unknown
You know, that's the reality of it, you know. But, you know, because we played so much outside, you know, like our generation really got to be outside so much. I was talking to my older brother the other day and he was talking about how his kids make a mess of his house.

00:16:00:12 - 00:16:15:22
Unknown
And I was reminding him that we were never in our house like we came home, you know, changed our clothes, went out again. And as long as you were back by dinner, you would have dinner, and then you would go to sleep like you spent the majority of your time, like outside enjoying nature.

00:16:16:19 - 00:16:28:11
Unknown
And and that's why I always tell people, you know, our generation is better with heat than most because we were like outside a lot. We didn't get a lot of air conditioning. So and then in the summer, we played tennis outside.

00:16:28:11 - 00:16:38:21
Unknown
You know, we were always outside doing stuff. So for me, that was part of being in Miami. And like, I had every single birthday party at Prenton Park. I can't I can't remember a birthday party that wasn't a grand.

00:16:38:21 - 00:16:52:04
Unknown
And what a fairytale. Come on, a fairytale. So we had, like, your cake and your friends and your abuela, you know, and here you were in the beach. So I think as I got older, you started seeing the change.

00:16:52:04 - 00:17:13:03
Unknown
And for me, Andrew, you know, really was impactful. You know, Andrew was you know, it was so devastating. That's hurricane Hurricane Andrew in 1992, 92. So it ripped through South Dade. You know, there was this massive exodus. And really that's when people started talking about, wow, you know, we live in a fragile place.

00:17:13:05 - 00:17:33:19
Unknown
Like, I hadn't seen that. You know, like you talk about hurricanes and you have needles, you know, and, you know, you grow up in Miami and, you know, post Andrew And then, you know, with the changes that we were seeing, you know, with sea level rise which orgasms the beaches started changing, the erosion like the Miami that

00:17:33:19 - 00:17:53:11
Unknown
I knew was slowly disappearing. And for me, that was kind of like the wakeup call, like, hey, wait a second. Like, what I love about this place may, in fact, disappear if we don't do something, you know? So I think, you know, as as you get older, you have an appreciation for it, you know, and and you

00:17:53:12 - 00:18:08:14
Unknown
you become a steward. And one of the things that concerns me when we talk about the environment is that so many people politicize it now, because when I was younger, the environment of protecting the environment wasn't a Republican or a Democrat thing.

00:18:08:23 - 00:18:20:14
Unknown
It was a green thing. You know, everybody wanted to do it. It had not been, you know, polarized by anyone. And in fact, a lot of people don't know that, you know, the you know, the EPA, a lot of these tangibles were started by the Republican Party.

00:18:20:14 - 00:18:34:05
Unknown
So I don't know at what point, like, you kind of went sideways. But, you know, I think it's important for folks to recognize that it is in everyone's best interests to protect the environment. It is in everyone's best interests, you know, to protect water quality.

00:18:34:05 - 00:18:48:06
Unknown
It is in everyone's best interests to protect the bay. The bay and our beaches aren't just important because we love them and we enjoy them and they're part of our environmental landscape. They also are the drivers for our economy.

00:18:48:14 - 00:19:07:09
Unknown
You know, when tourists come here and they go to the beach and the beach is closed, you know, because it's contaminated, that impacts our economy. So for us, it's an investment at this point. And I think like posts like after 40, I always tell people like, I don't care why you do it, I just want you to

00:19:07:09 - 00:19:21:03
Unknown
do it. So I don't care why people protect the environment. You know, whatever your motivation is, whether it's economic, you know, or it's nostalgia or it's scientific, like I don't care what your motivation is, you just need to do it.

00:19:21:03 - 00:19:33:10
Unknown
And I think that's where we're at now that it's really like a call to arms. Like people need to understand that there are things that have gone very, very wrong and we need to make, you know, serious choices.

00:19:33:17 - 00:19:47:18
Unknown
You know, we talk about, you know, the BCB, which is, you know, UDP, the urban urban development boundary boundary, which is under attack. But, you know, we have an issue with recycling. Recycling is a lie. You know, they stop recycling in Broward.

00:19:47:23 - 00:20:06:06
Unknown
We know that. We're not recycling what people, you know, are putting in their trash cans here. It's very limited. What we can recycle. You know, we have more trash than ever, post-pandemic, and we're really concerned about it. And we need to find better ways that, you know, we can deal with trash and we have to educate consumers

00:20:06:06 - 00:20:25:01
Unknown
about what they use because unfortunately, somewhere along the way, people thought that all plastic can be recycled. And that's just not true. And I can tell you from the county side, very little plastic is recycled. Actually, we want your cardboard, you know, feel free, you know, to put the cardboard in the recycling bin.

00:20:25:01 - 00:20:38:23
Unknown
We'll take that, you know. But I think also the choices that we make, we have to be a little bit more aware that we are all sorts of our environment and that, you know, you know, we. Mentioned earlier that Miami is so cool and it is.

00:20:38:23 - 00:20:54:14
Unknown
We're so cool. We're we're so diverse, you know. But remember and I always try to remind people of this, I remember English only. I remember McDuffie, you know, I mean, it was a very scary place for a series number of years.

00:20:54:19 - 00:21:07:24
Unknown
And I remember when I saw the first bumper sticker that said, When the last American leaves Miami, take the flag. And I thought, Oh, my God, you're going to take the flag. Yeah, right. Miami was a tinderbox when we were growing up.

00:21:07:24 - 00:21:25:18
Unknown
It was very tense ethnically for sure. NA But what, what happened I think, is that people chose diversity. I think we made a choice, right? And the people who were not okay with that left and then the people who stayed were like, you know what, we choose diversity.

00:21:25:23 - 00:21:45:09
Unknown
We are going to support other groups. We're going to welcome other waves of immigrants. You know, the Anglos who were here, they learn Spanish. Everybody kind of just, you know. Yeah, but we existed, bought in. And now, you know, now we're a I think we're one of the most, you know, interesting places in terms of just diversity

00:21:45:09 - 00:21:58:18
Unknown
, how different people are here, and yet all come together. And it's reflected in the commission. It's reflected in our elected leaders. And you mentioned something. Yeah, but my focus to this and not to give up on my point is I think we have to choose the environment.

00:21:58:24 - 00:22:16:00
Unknown
You know, I think we have to choose to be stories, you know, and I think that's where we're at now, where whoever is not okay with this, you know, can't really live here because we have a lot of work we have to do and everybody kind of has to roll up their sleeves, you know, and do this

00:22:16:01 - 00:22:32:01
Unknown
work for people. You mentioned something really interesting, which is that somehow along the way, environmentalism, environmentalism became a partizan issue and it became a wedge issue, which I find to be strange, because everybody needs clean air. Everybody needs clean water.

00:22:32:07 - 00:22:46:13
Unknown
Without it, we're dead. And the only way we're going to get is if we take care of the natural places that that keep those things healthy, our water and our air. And so I think you have a certain advantage being a local leader, because in Miami-Dade County, races are nonpartisan like they are.

00:22:46:16 - 00:23:04:07
Unknown
Local races are non partizan, like they are in many parts of the state of Florida. Many local races are nonpartisan. So I think that at those levels. Environmentalism still is is very much bipartisan. And so you have a lot of people who are from both parties at the local level who are coming together to speak out for

00:23:04:07 - 00:23:26:09
Unknown
the environment. It's when you get to the federal level and the state level. So, you know, the congressional races, Florida House and Senate races, that's where you start seeing that partizanship seep into environmentalism. And so and so I think, you know, I think for somebody like you, you're in a position to really forget about the politics behind

00:23:26:10 - 00:23:38:20
Unknown
it and just focus on the issue. And so. And so that has led to some really interesting things that you guys are doing in Miami Dade County. And one of them that I wanted to talk about is this interesting transition that you're doing.

00:23:38:20 - 00:23:50:06
Unknown
So you mentioned that a lot of the houses built in the thirties, forties and fifties were built in higher elevation areas or elevated up. But a lot of the development that came later on was built in lower lying areas with septic tanks and septic tanks.

00:23:50:06 - 00:24:04:01
Unknown
Are these basically these concrete these concrete boxes that are put in your yard and that's where all your waste goes from your house and and the nutrients from that waste, the way that that the septic tank gets rid of them is it leaches it into the ground.

00:24:04:19 - 00:24:25:24
Unknown
Right. And so in those areas, those nutrients are leaching into the ground. And that that eventually makes its way into either the aquifer or the ocean or the bay. And so. All right. So so so Miami-Dade County has started a program now to transition some of those homes that have septic tanks to central sewer, you know, in

00:24:25:24 - 00:24:41:11
Unknown
other words, so that the nutrients don't leach into the ground at the site of contention, you know, at the site of the home. But instead, they're channeled to a central sewage processing location where they're where the sewage is, then cleaned out and then disposed of in a different way.

00:24:41:22 - 00:24:53:11
Unknown
We'll get to that later, because as of now, they're dumping it offshore. But anyway, that's all we talk about. Ocean Isle. Well, you know, and so, so and so. And this is also a great topic in a nutshell.

00:24:53:11 - 00:25:04:16
Unknown
In a nutshell, tell me, what's the county doing about what's the septic to sewer? What is that all about and how do you feel about it? Well, I'm obsessed with septic tanks. I've been talking about septic tanks for for many years.

00:25:05:02 - 00:25:19:11
Unknown
You know, here in Miami, we have so many of them, because what happened is as folks went out, you know, past where the county had invested infrastructure, they just open the well and tapped into the aquifer and then put in a septic tank.

00:25:19:14 - 00:25:37:08
Unknown
And then they just kept going and going and going. My first experience with a septic tank was when I was a baby attorney at Holland and night I was a litigator for Holland at night, and I got called over the weekend to go to a client's house to pick up a dummy dating myself, to pick up a

00:25:37:08 - 00:25:54:05
Unknown
disposable camera and go to a client's house. So that's like when you went to Ecuador and you bought a disposable camera, you went over those days. And what had happened is the septic tank had collapsed, you know, so I showed up and I saw like a septic tank, like, open.

00:25:54:05 - 00:26:10:04
Unknown
And, like, you know, what had happened is they had taken a car, had driven improperly into the area and and and on a part of the septic tank. The thing had, like, gone all the way up. So it was like this huge, like, box of waste, like, covered, like in palmetto bugs and stuff.

00:26:10:04 - 00:26:25:09
Unknown
It was something out of, like a horror movie, and you could smell it for blocks and blocks and blocks. And that was like I had heard about septic tanks, but I hadn't seen as something tank So, you know, I went through this whole litigation and this process and I learned so much about septic tanks.

00:26:25:17 - 00:26:40:22
Unknown
And I couldn't believe that we still had, you know, these things like in our environment because as you said, like literally the way they work is to, you know, leach this stuff like into the environment, you know, like that's literally how they were designed.

00:26:40:23 - 00:26:58:23
Unknown
They were not designed to contain this material forever, you know, and some of these septic tanks are decades and decades old. So I started learning more about septic tanks, and I found that the county actually had their first report on the damaging effects of septic tanks in 1973.

00:26:59:01 - 00:27:14:07
Unknown
Like that was the first time that the county commission received an agenda item. Wow. Yes. Like before we were born, right? Like before we were born, there were already like, yeah, these things are bad. We need to stop putting these things in and we have to figure out a way to get rid of them.

00:27:14:14 - 00:27:28:06
Unknown
But Miami kept growing and these areas, you know, kept expanding and then you didn't have a line. So another septic tank and another septic tank and another septic tank. So my district is not the district that has the most septic tanks.

00:27:28:06 - 00:27:48:02
Unknown
It's actually number two. Number one is modest, the area which has the most septic tanks. But we're right behind him. And I've been talking about it for several years. I talked about it when I ran for mayor and now and thank God for the Biscayne Bay report, because until we got to the Biscayne Bay report, everybody was

00:27:48:02 - 00:28:01:20
Unknown
like, oh, septic tanks are not so bad, Commissioner. But when the Biscayne Bay report comes out and says. No, actually, these things are contaminating our waterways. You know, all of a sudden we start talking about something to sewer.

00:28:01:20 - 00:28:14:20
Unknown
So it is a monumental task to get rid of these septic tanks because we have so many of them. But, you know, what I've been working on is looking at the rules that have prevented us from getting rid of them.

00:28:14:21 - 00:28:31:14
Unknown
So, for example, one of the problems that we've had is if the water and sewer comes and puts a lateral, you know, and now you as a homeowner have access to that, you know, the minute they put down that lateral, you have 90 days to connect or you're in violation or nobody can connect in 90 days.

00:28:31:17 - 00:28:43:04
Unknown
You can't even get a permit in 90 days. You know, that's a poison pill. Right. And what about if you just got a brand new septic tank? You know, are you going to connect? You know, are you going to fight the county on it?

00:28:43:15 - 00:28:55:03
Unknown
So I'm actually bringing an item in September that makes a lot of changes. We spent two years kind of looking at all the county rules that have to do with septic tanks and figuring out what works and what doesn't.

00:28:55:09 - 00:29:12:12
Unknown
We already approved a new requirement for septic tanks, so now people who put in septic tanks have to put in a fiberglass septic tank that actually has, like, a motor. You know, so I can't get rid of all of them, but I can make sure that the new ones that come in, you know, are better technology than

00:29:12:13 - 00:29:29:12
Unknown
what we had before. Right. Because there are more environmentally friendly septic tanks. So logically advanced. You know, logically advanced. So so now what we're working on is creating these special benefit districts and doing the funding so that we can go eliminating them neighborhood by neighborhood.

00:29:29:17 - 00:29:46:02
Unknown
And we're focusing on the ones that are near waterways or that we know are failing. And it's it's a huge process, but it's also possible. First, I passed a moratorium on septic tanks in properties at the county owned because I was like, what is the county doing proliferating septic tanks?

00:29:46:02 - 00:29:56:22
Unknown
Like, at a minimum, we can stop. You know, so we've had a moratorium now for a year and a half that I'm very proud of. So Miami-Dade County has personally not added any septic tanks because we were the biggest offenders.

00:29:57:04 - 00:30:11:14
Unknown
We were adding septic tanks in our affordable housing. Why would you give a septic tank, you know, to someone who can barely afford a house, you know? So we also started an education for septic tanks, a registry for septic tanks.

00:30:11:14 - 00:30:28:12
Unknown
Now, septic tanks and wells are registered in the property appraisers and we're tracking them, you know, so that we know where they are. And we have a map. And we've also I did an overlay. So a lot of a lot of times what happens is water and sewer will tell us, you know, Commissioner, it's just too expensive

00:30:28:12 - 00:30:44:08
Unknown
to go into that neighborhood and put in a lot. So we created a five year map looking at what state is doing, what FPL is doing, what the municipalities are doing, what the state is doing and what we're doing so that when we tear off a street, we can come in and put a lot of hope.

00:30:44:14 - 00:31:00:19
Unknown
So now we have a way to, you know, make use of the project sometimes. Sometimes Fdot or even the county, they might pave over a street. And two years later, they'll decide to put a lateral on and they'll have to tear it up and pivot over again.

00:31:00:19 - 00:31:15:04
Unknown
I mean, this policy makes sense to at least put in a sewage line if you're going to pave over street because you don't have to pay the cost of, you know, riding over that street again. Once you put in a sewage line in a couple of years, it's a monumental task.

00:31:15:04 - 00:31:26:01
Unknown
We did it. We did a pilot. So, you know, one of the things that we did is we worked with the city of Pine Crest. Pipes had wells for 40 years, and it was super polemic and it took us eight months.

00:31:26:02 - 00:31:37:02
Unknown
But we worked with them and we did a pilot and we actually got rid of those wells and that project is almost finished. So we started with the wells, eliminating the wells, you know, because they're a little bit easier than a septic tank.

00:31:37:18 - 00:31:52:02
Unknown
But now we're moving full on into the septic tank and that item is actually going to come in for the county commission in September. Wow. And it is a monumental task. If, from what I understand, there's like something like 3 million septic tanks in Florida, something like that, anyway.

00:31:52:08 - 00:32:08:12
Unknown
And in Miami, there's there's probably hundreds of thousands, you know, at least a couple hundred thousand, if not more, two or 300,000, 140,000 septic, 230,000. So little by little, you're starting to chip away at that problem. You know, the journey of a thousand thousand miles begins with the first step, right?

00:32:08:12 - 00:32:19:18
Unknown
So you've taken the first steps. That's important. And I know I know we're we're a little bit late, but there's so much time to talk about it here. If you hear noise in the back, it's my daughter who's making a lot of noise.

00:32:19:24 - 00:32:33:03
Unknown
I Oh, it's okay. We live in a zoom world. I know. It's if my dog barks, I apologize to you. Don't worry about it. So. Okay, so, so lastly, tell me how you feel. How do you feel about this?

00:32:33:12 - 00:32:48:12
Unknown
About Biscayne Bay, Biscayne National Park and the Everglades? How do you personally feel about it? And what is your commitment to protect those areas? Well, I grew up going to the Everglades. I mean, for for us that grew up here, it was a place that you visited.

00:32:48:12 - 00:33:01:21
Unknown
It's not it wasn't like a nuisance. Like we all read Leaves of Grass. And then, you know, we went to the Everglades. Like, we all know the story. You know, I rode my bike down that trail a million times as you pass, like the crocodiles.

00:33:01:21 - 00:33:19:08
Unknown
And then you learn that you could actually take your bike on the bus and you didn't have to ride all the way by shock value. Right. Right. So, you know, we all we all learned our rally lessons. So, you know, I think one of the things that when we talk about Everglades restoration, thankfully, the state is now

00:33:19:08 - 00:33:36:17
Unknown
really on board and we have a true partner at the state level. We've had more allocations for Everglades restoration in the last few years than we've had in the last 20 years. So finally, they're coming around and I think environmental tourism is a thing, you know, it is a thing.

00:33:36:24 - 00:33:48:04
Unknown
And we're promoting it and we're educating people about the Everglades and about the history of the Everglades. I think we have to do a better job with like our kids, like when I took my kids to Shark Valley, like they weren't very impressed.

00:33:48:10 - 00:34:04:07
Unknown
But, you know, as we pass on kind of the mantle of stewardship, I think that we have to do a better job, you know, of getting our kids to love it as much as as we love it. And the be, of course, you know, I think so many people were impacted by seeing the fish kills and the

00:34:04:08 - 00:34:19:03
Unknown
and the algae, you know, and that just kind of, you know, because like we were saying before, you know, you see these environmental issues as something that will happen in the future. So I think when folks saw the bay dying like right in front of us, it was your call.

00:34:19:03 - 00:34:40:15
Unknown
It was really a call to action. You know, and one of the things that we're proud of is now, even as we do events in Miami-Dade County, for example, so, you know, Ultra came recently to the city of Miami and they had like an environmental specialist that actually, like, covered the drains, you know, and worked on the

00:34:40:15 - 00:34:57:22
Unknown
recycling and the impact they have on the bay. You know, we recently had the boat show and I was physically I was physically there as a dolphin watcher. You know, we had you know, we're trying to get folks to understand, like, you can have these events, but you have to protect the environment.

00:34:58:01 - 00:35:08:01
Unknown
You know, it cannot be like at the cost of the environment, you know. And then we use these events to educate people on the bay and the restoration that we need to do and the work that we need to do.

00:35:08:01 - 00:35:28:12
Unknown
So the septic tank is a big part of our bay issue. But the other thing that we did is we passed an ordinance limiting the types of fertilizer that folks can use in Miami-Dade County, which was a great step, I think huge issue with like the round up and the runoff, you know, and everyone loves their beautiful

00:35:28:12 - 00:35:48:09
Unknown
landscaping here and their first response is to just spray everything at the worst possible time. So now in Miami-Dade County, you actually cannot use these products during the rainy season because of the runoff. And we're doing everything to educate people on everything from using rain barrels, you know, to ensure that they use the right type of water

00:35:48:09 - 00:36:04:20
Unknown
for their landscaping to better landscaping that doesn't need all these chemicals. And how these chemicals end up in our water system and in the fish and in the oysters, you know, that's one thing that regular, regular people will often wonder, what can I do to help the environment?

00:36:04:20 - 00:36:18:23
Unknown
Well, one thing everybody can do is if you are a single family home is don't don't use, don't use, don't fertilize your lawn as their escape your house plant, native plants that don't require any irrigation or don't require any fertilizer.

00:36:19:04 - 00:36:33:22
Unknown
And that in itself will help because collectively that reduces a lot of the nutrients that are going into the bay and going into the aquifer, you know, so and so, I mean, there's so much left to talk about, but I guess we're running up on our time limit and we could do a part two.

00:36:33:23 - 00:36:42:02
Unknown
We're going to do a part. See, you're one of the you're one of the interviews that I need to do a part to it, because there's there's so much left to cover. But this has been a really, really great conversation.

00:36:42:11 - 00:36:57:10
Unknown
And I want to encourage you to keep standing up for environmental issues and for these beautiful places that surround us that that, you know, need voices like yours to defend them. And so so I congratulate you for the work you're doing.

00:36:57:10 - 00:37:11:13
Unknown
And I hope you continue to to stand up for these places. And and I want to thank you also for participating in the podcast. This episode of The Nature of Florida podcast was brought to you in part by the Fairburn Foundation, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Expliquer Media.

00:37:11:17 - 00:37:24:04
Unknown
If you're enjoying this podcast, remember to subscribe on our website, The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral, the Bus, Broadcom. That's the nature of Florida with Oscar Corral, dot buzz, Broadcom. Or find us on your favorite platform and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.