Pat Woodson

Imagine: Two neighbors sit in a small boat on the ocean. There is a hole in the boat. As the water creeps up to their necks they continue arguing about who should fix the hole. Each believing the other is closer to it.

While this seems absurd, it is where we may find ourselves if our Village Council follows the Underground Utility Committee's funding recommendation.

This committee was tasked with recommending plans to protect our power grid from storms by burying above-ground power lines. This is a long-planned resiliency project among a holistic network of potential solutions such as: expanded pumping capabilities, beach re-nourishment, sand dunes, street elevation/permeability, and green space to collect and drain water during flooding. 

While this committee did excellent work on the project itself, they also recommend, for the first time in village history, to special-assess individual property owners for community infrastructure.

This would be a dangerous precedent. Since incorporation, all village infrastructure has been a community project primarily funded by ad-valorem taxes--which are still among the lowest in Miami-Dade County. Underground utility installation was to be one of these capital improvement projects.

Special assessments are decided by vote of each housing “unit” owner, unlike regular elections and referenda which are decided by a majority of all voters. This would be a tectonic shift in how and why votes are cast in Key Biscayne.

The proposed assessments would be calculated using criteria to determine a level of perceived benefit per selected address. The utility committee has identified this methodology’s record of success against lawsuits, of which there have been more than a few.

This is a divisive and radical departure from our nearly 30 years of funding improvements as a whole community. This method of funding is likely to pit neighborhoods against each other and to leave holes in our system of resiliency infrastructure. While "undergrounding" utilities may appear to benefit some more than others, so does beach re-nourishment and every other infrastructure project, but each contributes to the whole.

We are a municipality, not a condominium. We elect our Village Council to serve our entire community, not to parse out who seems to benefit most from each element of our infrastructure. The role and very mission of our government are at stake here; not to mention our quality of community.

The Village Council may decide to go ahead as previously planned, to bury power lines as a capital improvement. However, going forward I believe that the best way to pay for holistic resiliency infrastructure is through a general obligation Bond, while interest rates remain at historic lows.

The need to protect our community and all our property values is real and immediate. Miami Beach has already invested more than half a billion dollars in resiliency to flooding and storms. We cannot afford a divisive methodology such as special assessments which see us as separate self-interested “units.” We are neighbors working together to protect ourselves and our fragile island against forces of nature impervious to our address.