Miami Herald

How long does it take Miami to repair a public boat ramp? 12 years and counting for this one

- BY LINDA ROBERTSON lrobertson@miamiheral­

Back in 2005, Hurricane Wilma damaged a boat ramp and dock next to a Miami park so badly that it was closed to the public in 2009. It has been slated for repair every year since.

What has been done to fix it? Nothing.

What about a pledge to finally reopen in February so that people could again enjoy a rare public access point to beautiful Biscayne Bay?

Forget it. Postponed indefinite­ly.

That’s 12 years and counting since the closure. In that time, the administra­tions of Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have come and gone, the epic TV series “Game of Thrones” started and finished, vaccines were discovered for swine flu and COVID-19, the world’s tallest skyscraper was built in Dubai and a generation of kids grew up without being able to launch kayaks, canoes, paddleboar­ds or sailboats from the ramp and dock on Miami’s Upper East Side.

It’s a saga that exasperate­d residents cite when they complain about the ineptitude of local government. After all, they could have taken up a collection, purchased materials at Home Depot and fixed the ramp and dock themselves. Or recruited Boy Scouts to do it.

“We’re not talking about landing a rover on Mars,” said William Mathisen, who lives nearby and has been lobbying for repairs for years. “The city of Miami has abandoned an incredible bayfront asset. I’m not holding my breath for another year and then it gets delayed again.”

The fenced-off property blighted by piles of rotting seaweed and trash lies at the eastern end of Northeast 64th Street in the MiMo District, adjacent to Legion Park. With just a dozen or so parking spots, it’s not a major ramp likely to draw crowds but it’s in an area without much access for boaters and paddlers otherwise.

The half-submerged 12-foot dock, its three disconnect­ed pilings and the concrete ramp are listed by the National Marine Manufactur­ers Associatio­n as an example of derelict, deteriorat­ing boating infrastruc­ture “where people are struggling to get on the water.”

“It’s an awful situation making the wrong headlines for Miami,” said Spencer Crowley, MiamiDade commission­er for the Florida Inland Navigation District, which uses tax money to help fund Intracoast­al Waterway projects.

Last summer, when no progress had been made, the city’s Office of Capital Improvemen­ts had to ask for an extension on a $740,139 constructi­on grant from the navigation district that was due to expire in September. Although the grant is still valid, the city failed to submit its quarterly update on the project that was due in December, said Crowley, who has requested the report. A previous

$50,000 design grant from the district awarded in 2015 expired in 2018 when the city did not submit a plan before deadline. Residents are frustrated by the lapses that have led to further delays.

“It is shameful that the taxpayers have to constantly push for accountabi­lity and still nothing gets done,” said Mathisen, co-founder of the Biscayne Neighborho­ods Associatio­n. “There’s always an excuse — planning, permitting, funding problems. They’ve run through 12 years’ worth of excuses.”

The dock was first damaged by Hurricane Wilma storm surge in 2005. Then in 2009, a woman from the neighborho­od, who does not want to be identified by name, was injured when she fell through a missing section of the dock while trying to maneuver her boat onto a trailer. She sued the city and won $54,000 in damages. The dock and ramp were closed. The chain-link fence that surrounds the small parking lot at the end of the street was locked and a sign erected: Closed for repairs.

Two years ago, the city told the Miami Herald

“this is a very important project and a priority for the city” but gave no timeline because plans were still being reviewed by the Department of Environmen­tal Resources Management.

In June 2020, the city announced the project would be finished by February 2021. Mayor Francis Suarez lent his support for new kayak launches. “Kayak ramps are sorely needed and I’m totally in favor of it,” he said.

But after nine months with nothing accomplish­ed at the site except the removal of some rocks, the city decided last week to fire its contractor. The city had given the contractor extra time to get the project on track during the height of the coronaviru­s pandemic when the company said it was short of employees, but when the company did not respond to two warnings in recent months, the contract was “terminated for non performanc­e,” according to the Office of Capital Improvemen­ts.

When a new one will be hired and when constructi­on will start is undetermin­ed, said Patrick Barham, community liaison for District 5 Commission­er Jeffrey Watson. Constructi­on is expected to take 10-12 months.

“The fence is still up and the area will remain closed for safety reasons,” Barham said. “We’re trying to move the process forward. We recognize the public has been waiting a long time to use that spot.”


President Joe Biden and Democrats agreed to tighten eligibilit­y limits for stimulus checks Wednesday, bowing to party moderates as leaders prepared to move their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill through the Senate.

At the same time, the White House and top Democrats stood by progressiv­es and agreed that the Senate package would retain the $400 weekly emergency unemployme­nt benefits included in the House-passed pandemic legislatio­n. Moderates have wanted to trim those payments to $300 after Republican­s have called the bill so heedlessly generous that it would prompt some people to not return to work.

The deal-making underscore­d the balancing act Democrats face as they try squeezing the massive relief measure through the evenly divided, 50-50 Senate. The package, Biden’s signature legislativ­e priority, is his attempt to stomp out the year-old pandemic, revive an economy that’s shed 10 million jobs and bring some semblance of normality to countless upended lives.

Democrats have no choice but to broker compromise­s among themselves, thanks to their mere 10-vote House margin and a Senate they control only with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. The party’s moderate and progressiv­e factions are competing to use their leverage, but without going so far as to scuttle an effort they all support.

“He’s pleased with the progress that is being made with the rescue plan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of Biden, reflecting the flexibilit­y he and all Democrats will need to prevail. “He’s always said he’s open to good ideas.”

So far, Republican­s have presented a unified front against the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants unanimous GOP opposition.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, didn’t rule out breaking ranks and supporting the measure. She told reporters her state’s tourism industry has been walloped by the pandemic and said she’s talked to administra­tion officials about “how this helps a state like Alaska.”

The Senate could begin debating the bill Thursday, but Democrats faced mountains of GOP amendments and other delays that could take days to plow through. The House will have to approve the Senate’s version before shipping it to Biden, which Democrats want to do before the last round of emergency jobless benefits run dry March 14.

“I would expect a very long night into the next day and keep going on,” said Sen. James Lankford, ROkla., describing GOP plans to force votes.

Under the legislatio­n, individual­s earning up to $75,000, and couples up to $150,000, would get $1,400 checks per person. The House-approved version would gradually phase down that amount, with individual­s making $100,000 and couples earning $200,000 receiving nothing.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, the Senate bill would instead halt the payments completely for individual­s making $80,000 and couples earning $160,000, said a Democratic official, who described the agreement only on condition of anonymity.

That means some people who received the last round of $600 relief checks approved in December wouldn’t get anything this time. The liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that the pared-down Senate eligibilit­y levels means 280 million adults and children would receive stimulus checks, compared to 297 million people under the House plan.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the chamber’s most conservati­ve Democrat, has favored lowering the relief check eligibilit­y limits and opposed the House bill’s minimum wage increase. He suggested Wednesday he’d back the emerging Senate legislatio­n, saying it “really does have enough good stuff that we should be able to make this work.”

Liberals were already angry after Senate Democrats jettisoned the House bill’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025. They did so after the Senate parliament­arian said the chamber’s rules wouldn’t allow the boost in the bill and as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said they’d oppose its inclusion, sealing its fate.

The House version of the relief checks would cost $422 billion, making them the package’s single most expensive item.

The two chambers’ bills are largely similar, with both bearing money for state and municipal government­s, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, schools, healthcare subsidies and tax breaks for children and lower-earning people.

Republican­s, including McConnell, continued lashing the measure as an overpriced Democratic wish list of liberal causes that lavishes help on many who don’t really need it.

“This is not a liberal wish list,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “This is an American wish list. When people want checks to help them get out of the morass, that’s not a liberal wish list.

That’s what the American people want.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignatio­n in the face of sexual harassment allegation­s that have threatened his hold on power and damaged his national political standing.

The Democrat, speaking somberly in his first public appearance since three women accused him of inappropri­ate touching and offensive remarks, apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behavior around women.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomforta­ble,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentio­nal and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”

Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: “I wasn’t elected by politician­s, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”

Cuomo acknowledg­ed “sensitivit­ies have changed and behavior has changed” and that what he considers his “customary greeting” – an old-world approach that often involves kisses and hugs – is not acceptable.

But the allegation­s against the governor go beyond aggressive greetings.

Former aide Lindsey Boylan accuses Cuomo of having harassed her throughout her employment and said he once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his stateCuomo owned jet. Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo once asked her if she ever had sex with older men.

Both women rejected Cuomo’s latest apology, doubling down on their disgust after he issued a statement Sunday attempting to excuse his behavior as his way of being “playful.”

“How can New Yorkers trust you (at)NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know' when you’ve been inappropri­ate with your own staff?” Boylan tweeted.

Cuomo said he will “fully cooperate” with an investigat­ion into the allegation­s overseen by the state’s independen­tly elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.

addressed the allegation­s during a news conference that otherwise focused on the state’s response to the coronaviru­s pandemic, the kind of briefings that made him a daily fixture on TV and a national star among Democrats. Before that, Cuomo last spoke to reporters during a conference call on Feb. 22. His last briefing on camera was Feb. 19.

Two of the women accusing Cuomo worked in his administra­tion. The other was a guest at a wedding that he officiated.

Bennett, 25, said Cuomo quizzed her about her sex life, asked if she felt age made a difference in relationsh­ips and said he was fine dating “anyone above the age of 22.” Bennett said she believed he was gauging her interest in an affair. Cuomo has denied making advances on Bennett.

Boylan, 36, said Cuomo

commented on her appearance inappropri­ately, kissed her without her consent and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s allegation­s.

Anna Ruch told The

New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan.

Cuomo didn’t answer directly when asked by a reporter if he could assure the public that there were no other former aides who would come forward.

“The facts will come out” in the attorney general’s investigat­ion, he said, reiteratin­g his position that he “never knew at the time” that he was making anyone feel uncomforta­ble.

Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said the governor’s news conference “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate informatio­n.”

She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made women uncomforta­ble was disingenuo­us, considerin­g that Bennett had reported his behavior to her boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.

Florida has sent a message to the rest of the country: We’re open for business. People experienci­ng COVID fatigue in states with stricter lockdowns, and colder weather, are listening. Flights and hotel rooms are cheap. Out-of-state visitors are flocking to South Florida during Spring Break where they can let their hair down — and, unfortunat­ely, their masks.

“The fact that their hometowns are too cold, or not as open as Florida, has made us the destinatio­n of choice,” Miami Beach

Mayor Dan Gelber said in a “COVID-19 Update” video posted online by the city.

It’s not just the drunken brawls, traffic and college students gone wild that Miami

Beach and other destinatio­ns will have to contend with. Gov. DeSantis has done his best to depict Florida as the place where COVID magically doesn’t exist. Gelber, who expects more visitors than last year, told the Herald Editorial Board that he thinks it’s not just college students seeking refuge in South Florida, but also older people.

Combine that influx with Florida’s near absence of coronaviru­s restrictio­ns; add the more contagious U.K. and Brazilian variants that have been found in Miami-Dade County, then mix in Spring Breakers’ “anything goes” attitude — we know, this attitude has no age limit — and we risk losing progress made since the post-holiday peak of cases and deaths.

Miami-Dade is about threequart­ers of the way down from that peak. But with test positivity rates hovering between 5.7 percent and 6 percent, we’re still a long way from the low numbers we saw in the fall, when that rate was 3 percent to 4 percent, Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair of FIU’s Department of Epidemiolo­gy, told the Editorial Board.

“Spring Break will fuel transmissi­on in our community and it will probably fuel transmissi­on in communitie­s where (visitors) come from,” Trepka said.

It’s hard to tell exactly how much worse COVID numbers could get in Miami-Dade. We can’t use last year as a comparison because Spring Break happened early in the pandemic when there wasn’t enough testing, Trepka said. Holidays like Memorial Day, for example, have been tied to coronaviru­s surges in many parts of the country, but Spring Break is contained to specific geographic­al areas, so a comparison there wouldn’t be precise, either.

But we have learned there’s little good that comes from packed bars and restaurant­s during a pandemic.

DeSantis boasted about leaving Florida open in his annual State of the State address on Tuesday. That has helped businesses recover, but DeSantis has done so while tying the hands of local government­s and prohibitin­g them from enforcing mask mandates and other restrictio­ns. He now wants the Legislatur­e to prohibit local emergency measures such as curfews. This is unspeakabl­y cruel.

Miami Beach has approved a slew of measures to ensure visitors are following COVID-19 safety guidelines and to combat the Spring Break debauchery and criminal activity that Gelber said has become worse over the past decade. The city’s seven-week plan increases policing and code enforcemen­t, limits parking and protects residentia­l neighborho­ods. The city is also distributi­ng masks and has launched a social-media campaign targeting college-age visitors with the slogan “Vacation Responsibl­y.”

“Vacation Responsibl­y” and Spring Break sound like oxymorons. But we hope the slogan works. Miami-Dade needs careless large crowds like another case of COVID.

lrobertson@miamiheral­ ?? The boat ramp adjacent to Legion Park is blighted with seaweed and trash and has been closed since 2009.
LINDA ROBERTSON lrobertson@miamiheral­ The boat ramp adjacent to Legion Park is blighted with seaweed and trash and has been closed since 2009.
 ?? LINDA ROBERTSON lrobertson@miamiheral­ ?? The public dock at Northeast 64th Street was damaged in 2005 during Hurricane Wilma and then closed in 2009.
LINDA ROBERTSON lrobertson@miamiheral­ The public dock at Northeast 64th Street was damaged in 2005 during Hurricane Wilma and then closed in 2009.
 ?? ALEX BRANDON AP ?? White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with reporters on Wednesday in Washington.
ALEX BRANDON AP White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with reporters on Wednesday in Washington.
 ?? Office of the New York Governor via AP ?? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in Albany, N.Y.: ‘I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomforta­ble. It was unintentio­nal and I truly and deeply apologize for it.’
Office of the New York Governor via AP New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in Albany, N.Y.: ‘I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomforta­ble. It was unintentio­nal and I truly and deeply apologize for it.’
 ?? Miami Herald ?? Spring Break 2020 in Miami Beach at the beginning of the coronaviru­s pandemic.
Miami Herald Spring Break 2020 in Miami Beach at the beginning of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

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