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Feds to Miami-Dade: Fix aging sewer system

Miami-Dade County’s 7,500 miles of sewage lines are in such decrepit shape and rupture so frequently — sometimes spilling raw waste into waterways and Biscayne Bay — that federal environmental regulators are demanding repairs and upgrades that could cost upwards of a billion dollars.

Authorities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice and Florida Department of Environmental Protection met Wednesday morning with leaders at County Hall to begin what figures to be a lengthy and expensive negotiation for Miami-Dade.

John Renfrow, director of Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department, acknowledged the string of major ruptures that have plagued the county’s sewage system in recent years, saying the aging network is “being held together by chewing gum.” He added he has sought more money to fix the leaks for a long time.

The price tag, though still uncertain, will easily reach the hundreds of millions and could top $1 billion based on past repair projects. The massive overhaul almost certainly will mean rate hikes for hundreds of thousands of residents who have historically paid some of the lowest fees in the state.

“We would like to think there’s state and federal assistance,” said Doug Yoder, Water and Sewer deputy director for regional compliance. “But this is ultimately going to come back to rates. It will require our rates go up, either to generate cash or to pay bonds back.”

More from Charles Rabin and Curtis Morgan here.