Miami-Dade to impose steeper fines for those caught polluting bodies of water

The board of county commissioners in Miami-Dade approved stiff new higher penalties for anyone caught illegally dumping into the bay, or any body of water, anywhere in the county.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Polluters be warned, Miami-Dade County is not playing around.

The board of county commissioners just approved stiff new higher penalties for anyone caught illegally dumping into the bay, or any body of water, anywhere in the county.

The move buoyed by a sight many concerned Miami-Dade residents have grown tired of: plumes of silt from construction sites stretching for miles across the water, acting as another dagger in the heart of a dying Biscayne Bay.

“If we keep allowing this to happen, we won’t have a bay anymore,” said concerned Miami-Dade resident Albert Gomez. “We’ll have a dead body of water.”

The county is finally fighting back, coming down hard on polluters that dump into the bay.

The board of county commissioners unanimously approved significant increases in fines for all environmental violations that pollute Miami-Dade’s ground and surface waters, especially Biscayne Bay.

“We’re just trying to get people to comply with regulations that actually help keep our environment safe,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Oliver G. Gilbert.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa sponsored the ordinance.

“There have been reports that septic companies have been dumping into lakes,” said Sosa. “We have to increase the civil penalties.

“This was recommended by the Biscayne Bay Task Force. And I decided to utilize all the recommendation of experts to move ahead, and to make sure that the Biscayne aquifer and storm water outfalls are protected.”

The new stiffer fines now give Miami-Dade’s Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) more muscle to go after big developers and contractors that fail to properly secure construction sediment, debris and other materials on their sites.

Fines that, for decades, were so low, it was cheaper to pay them than comply.

“They would take that ticket and sure correct it right off the bat, but there was no incentive for them to continue to be doing that,” said Miami-Dade DERM Director Rashid Istambouli. “Even if I was to go there every day and ticket them the $100, $200, it really did nothing.”

It was, for many, just the cost of doing business in Miami-Dade, but that free ride, according to DERM, is over.

“That same violation today would be a 2500 dollar fine,” Istambouli said.

And that’s just the county’s fine. Local municipalities can also impose their own. In fact in 2020 following the Biscayne Bay fish kill, the City of Miami beefed up its penalties spearheaded by Commissioner Ken Russell.

Back in 2020, following the Biscayne Bay fish kill, Miami also beefed up its penalties, spearheaded by Commissioner Ken Russell.

“To me, the thing that will absolutely change behavior is if we shut down construction sites when they dump illegally into the bay,” Russell said.

And that is finally happening.

“When we come out here and find a violation, we refer it to them (City of Miami) they actually have as a part of their city ordinance have an ability to stop construction if they find a significant environmental issue,” Istambouli said.

It is the citizens of Miami-Dade County that have changed the game. A thousand eyes on the water with residents using cell phone video and blasting it on social media, calling out offending construction sites, like the FDOT signature bridge and Missoni Baia condo tower in Edgewater  that have helped DERM and city officials hold polluters accountable.

“For me to tell you that the turbidity problem just began now is probably not true, it’s probably been happening all this time, the difference was that we never saw it,” Istambouli said.

But its impact has devastated the watershed.

The sediments suffocate the sea grass beds, killing them.

Parts of Biscayne Bay have now lost more than 80 percent of all sea grasses.

“You’re seeing the disappearance of manatees, they’re not grazing out there, and even that seagrass itself, because there’s nothing to eat and there, they found that starving out there,” Istambouli said.

The bay now at a critical tipping point, and though this is not a silver bullet that will ultimately save it, these new increased fines are now a powerful tool for those fighting to restore it by putting polluters on notice.

“We are sending the message, don’t do it. Don’t do it,” said Sosa. “Because this time a big price is going to be paid.”

DERM is counting on continued resident support to help it enforce all these environmental violations. See something, say something.

Remember, it’s not just Biscayne Bay, it’s all Miami-Dade County.

Anything that pollutes any body of water, in the end all of it dumps into Biscayne Bay.

When reporting violations, it’s important to document them when you see them with pics or video.

To report them, email, or click here to submit an environmental complaint.

For more information on reporting environmental complaints, click here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.