- Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management Director Mike Fernandez’s last day is Friday, per a letter transmitted to the board of county commissioners and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on July 3. He has served in the position since 2019.
- Fernandez’s resignation comes five months after a fire decimated a county-owned waste-to-energy facility run by Covanta in Doral, Florida. He warned that the loss of the incinerator could mean that the county runs out of disposal capacity in five years, and he recommended a building construction moratorium as soon as next year unless alternative solutions could be identified and implemented, the Miami Herald reported.
- Juan Carlos Bermudez, a county commissioner and former mayor of Doral, expressed surprise at Fernandez’ resignation and the urgency with which he characterized the county’s waste disposal capacity. “If the urgency was there, I would have liked to have been told about it,” Bermudez said.
The departure of Fernandez, who has been with the Department of Solid Waste Management for 15 years and in the waste industry for 27 years, comes as the county faces difficult questions over its waste and recycling future.
Fernandez did not respond to requests for comment via his county phone and email. The mayor’s communications team also did not respond to a request for comment.
The mayor’s office has yet to act on a solid waste management plan developed by the waste department and transmitted to her office on March 24, 2022, per the resignation letter. The plan, which Fernandez signed off on, recommends an expansion of the North Dade and potentially the South Dade landfills, as well as negotiating increases in disposal capacity with private landfill operators like WM and Waste Connections.
In addition to landfill expansions, the letter also recommends the approval of a new waste-to-energy facility. The county board of commissioners had previously agreed to move forward with a plan to build a new incinerator on the existing facility site in a controversial vote taken without public comment in July 2022.
The mayor’s office is now studying what to do with waste next; some of it is currently sent to the Okeechobee Landfill near West Palm Beach, more than two hours north, per Bermudez. The original June deadline for a report to the county board was delayed to September, leaving questions unanswered about a new incinerator site, landfill expansions, financing and other issues.
MacKenzie Marcelin, climate justice director with progressive group Florida Rising, said the department should take a different approach as it weighs its options for disposal moving forward, embracing zero waste policies rather than continuing the status quo.
“We are at a crossroads and I think we need to move in the right direction,” Marcelin said.
The group has long opposed the incinerator and the council’s move to permit a new facility last year. Members have met with Fernandez as well as elected officials about their concerns, which include health issues like respiratory disease and cancer as well as odor. They also co-released a report with EarthJustice in June that found repeated fires at the Doral facility in the years leading up to its destruction on February 12 and warnings from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection about fire safety hazards.
Now, Marcelin and his colleagues at Florida Rising are advocating for enhanced recycling collection, new composting services and policies that disincentivize plastics and incentivize reusable products.
“Regardless of whether we are at capacity or not, the issue is that landfills and garbage incinerators are not the only solution on how to manage our waste,” Sebastian Caicedo, Miami regional director of Florida Rising, said.
Bermudez, whose District 12 encompasses Doral and the site of the now-shuttered incinerator, said there are a number of things the county is considering as it looks to the future of waste, including a campus at the site of the former incinerator. He also expects that come September, some of the proposed alternate sites for the incinerator will be in his district, in part due to the amount of undeveloped land available there.
The county’s Resource Recovery Facility is nearly 40 years old, and Bermudez said he’s been telling county officials that something needed to be done about the incinerator since before his election to the board last fall. County officials also nearly ran out the clock on their recycling contracts before agreeing to two-year extensions with WM, Waste Connections and Coastal Waste & Recycling in March of this year.
Those extensions bought the county more time. But Bermudez expects that the current board will need to make a decision soon about a long-term solution for recycling, including the possibility of a resource campus within the county. Other issues, like financing for a new facility and waste services, are also up in the air — the county had insurance on the old incinerator but likely needs to raise solid waste fees for residents, per Fernandez’s letter.
“This is what happens when politicians kick the can and, to be honest with you, when staff kicks the can down the road, which is something we're going to have to confront,” Bermudez said.