A Women’s History Month Islander News Special Edition would not be complete without an in depth interview of Key Biscayne Village Manager; Andrea Agha. She is in her seventh month of leadership where top issues like the undergrounding of utilities; beach re-nourishment and safety; storm water protection; emergency bridge evacuation and maintenance; and administrative/financial solvency challenges make up her daily to-do list. Madame Manager Agha sat down with Islander News to candidly share hurtles, successes, and strategies for long term community solutions.
On a recent Friday afternoon, in between staff meetings and while taking a break from signing payroll checks, Agha smiled graciously in welcome to her light and airy office, the wall above and behind her lined with diplomas. Her spacious corner desk included a flag display from countries all over the world and a happy looking little succulent plant. An adjoining table was decorated with a large photo of her two adorable blondie toddlers.
Undergrounding of utilities
The village manager is tasked with fulfilling the directives of council, as well as being the expert resource on how to get the job done. Agha acknowledged that the undergrounding of utilities is the top issue. She said the next step is for master plan consultant Kimley-Horn to present on the subject at the next regular council meeting set for March 19.
“I think the council was clear that night (February 26 regular meeting) that their expression of intent is to proceed with the undergrounding,” said Agha.
“The feedback I have received is most folks are asking about the financing scope and strategy, not whether or not to proceed. But for those that are still uncertain, we want to be engaged and listening and provide accurate timely responses with the help of the community, through the next few phases.”
Agha said this would most certainly include at least one workshop. Community outreach efforts would be arranged at different times to allow for residents with varying schedules to attend. She described the brewing divisiveness on whether to go with assessments or millage or other financing options as an energy whose source she is still trying to figure out.
“It’s important that we don’t perpetuate or encourage the divide.”
“At the end of the day we are one village. I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I have dreams about it, I wake up thinking about it and I talk to the council members often about what we can do to help there be unity and not divisiveness.”
“This issue has inspired what I’m calling an energy and I think it’s relevant to decisions before council in the next several months but there’s more to it. I’m really trying to get my head around what some of the root causes may be and trying to figure out what we can do to unite folks and not allow there to be this schism and this divide…to find the harmony, the compromise, and serve the community as effectively as we can.”
Bridge maintenance and emergency evacuation
Agha and her team just had their second meeting with the Miami Dade County Office of Emergency Management’s Frank Rollason (who made a presentation at the last council meeting) his colleague, bridge engineer Dennis Fernandez, the US Army Corp of Engineers, Coast Guard, Miami Dade County Police, and Department of Environmental Protection representatives, regarding the condition of Bear Cut Bridge and maintenance and emergency protocol for the entrance to the key.
“We had a joint presentation on the structural integrity of the bridge and what emergency planning is on the way,” said Agha.
“We came up with a three phased approach. First we looked at the existing conditions of the bridge, then emergency management short term in the event of failure, and what plans do we have in place on how to align the village to be incorporated with (wider) planning efforts.”
Since the undergrounding master plan will be addressed at the March 19 meeting, the scheduled bridge status presentation from Dennis Fernandez will be moved to a future meeting.
“Both are such important topics and to put them at the same meeting is not in the best interest of either.”
“We got direction from council to assemble an RFQ-Request for Qualifications-to look at the long term vision of the causeway and Bear Cut and analyze other plans that have been proposed, to look at pros and cons of those proposals and then figure out what would be ideal for Key Biscayne.”
This is in line with Mayor Mike Davey’s remarks at the last meeting and forum, that residents should avoid a village-centric perspective. Embracing wider collaboration with the county and agencies on the bridges is one example.
“I don’t know to what extent this has happened in the past but I’ll tell you the level of engagement that we have now with our partners across the bridge, across the waterways, has been tremendous.”
“I am so happy with their responsiveness. They recognize this is a concern for our residents. They came to us, we are hosting them in our building and breaking bread together. Our situation is unique. The closest thing we have is the Venetian Causeway which is a series of seven to eleven bridges. There is nothing of the magnitude that we have here between Bear Cut and the Rickenbacker.”
Agha said she pitched taking advantage of the imminent Ultra Music Festival on Virginia Key March 29-31 as a prime opportunity to conduct a drill for emergency evacuation.
“I said ‘why don’t we let this be a drill,’ it’s like you know a hurricane is coming three weeks out. Let’s capitalize on this perfect opportunity to get the pontoon bridges to do the exit (her suggestion was declined)…“The reality is that when it (an emergency) happens we need to move quickly and we need to be thinking that way.”
Storm water and beach re-nourishment
An approximate 25 million dollar investment in projects to address storm water mitigation encompass the storm water master plan said the manager. She will be seeking approval to proceed with a design phase at the March 19 meeting.
“It is broken into two tiers. The first is the back flow preventers. If you imagine a straw going into the water and if you are blowing out then if you stop blowing and you tilt the straw back the water will come back in. So if you have a valve capping that. If sea/water level rises, the water is not going to come back through our gravity system.”
“We are doing is the pump station at the K-8, that is the next priority, and then another smaller one at the O-13 outfall which is another project funded for this year. On the next agenda we have a design authorization to proceed with that.”
Agha had just received word that $500,000 of their $950,000 legislative appropriations request for the K-8 pump station had moved passed the first approval in Tallahassee.
“It passed unanimously through committee. Then it has to go through the House and before the governor…and that can take a few months.”
“We’ve got a great tax base and money but it will only get us so far. It is not going to take us all the way. The beach team (referencing the beach re-nourishment meeting from March 4; viewable on the village website) is looking at federal funding like the Federal Shoreline Protection Program.”
“One of my main goals is that the Village of Key Biscayne has the systems and the processes and the controls institutionalized into the government organization that will survive any of us…that the protocols are in place so the right checks and balances are there. We can then be financially responsible and still deliver on the resiliency initiatives that the village needs.”
“The council wants to expand our communications. We are working on a job description for a full time communications person; to hire somebody who has that background and that expertise.
We are also leveraging interactions like this…you are our partner in this. Everybody reads the Islander. We want to make sure we get the information to you because every Thursday folks pick it up, they know it, and so that’s a tremendous resource to us.
We want to revamp our website…one of our goals is we want to know how (residents) want to be communicated with and deliver the information they want in their way.”
“I want to see what infrastructure we can harness to support automated vehicles, to support smart cities technology, to support predictive analytics using data to pro-actively help the community function better.
To be safer, cleaner, to enhance the quality of life. These types of projects we are looking at, these are game changers, these are big game changing projects and I don’t take the investment lightly.
I am thorough and I am inquisitive and so I am really pushing the industry to try and get a handle on what we can do. Key Biscayne is the perfect community to leverage and explore how some of these new technologies might improve our livelihood.”
“Council authorized the research agreement last meeting for the next stage of the beach water quality study with the University of Miami.
We are pushing the needle. Undergrounding is coming to a head. We brought the beach re-nourishment team together. We are working the Bear Cut issue.
I think the only thing that I would add that is not as sexy…on the administrative side a lot of my time is dedicated to making sure the village has the right systems and controls in place to ensure financial long term sustainability. Because if we don’t have the money to do all this, we’re not getting it done.”