‘A constant battle’: Leaders, residents aim to tackle rampant litter, illegal dumping in Miami’s Little Havana

MIAMI – Just blocks away from the salsa beats, the clickety-clacks of domino tiles and the tourist-filled sidewalks of Calle Ocho is the real Little Havana — and it’s in big trouble.

“It’s a constant battle in the neighborhood to fight the illegal dumping and the trash,” said Little Havana resident Raissa Fernandez.

Fernandez told Local 10 News that she has lived in Little Havana all her life and the street litter and indiscriminate dumping have never been this bad.

“It’s shocking to think that a neighborhood in the city of Miami still has this situation,” she said.

Last week’s torrential downpours quickly flooded many Little Havana streets as cars, businesses and residences were overcome by waves of trashy water.

Local 10 News was in Little Havana where garbage-clogged stormwater inlets and catch basins along Northwest Ninth Avenue tell you all you need to know.

Catch basins are supposed to collect solids to keep debris from flowing into the city’s stormwater system but because they’re so clogged, the storm water has nowhere to go but back out onto the streets.

“They’re full of trash,” said Fernandez. “Even when we don’t have biblical storms—even when it’s just a little rain, it floods.”

“Why don’t they fine people who throw garbage on the streets?!” asked Little Havana resident Oscar Guzman.

Guzman told Local 10 News that he’s had enough. Every time it rains, he comes out with a large pry bar to try and unclog the inlets and keep the streets from flooding.

He says he’s sick of calling the city for help.

“They don’t care! The city doesn’t care. I’ve tried to call them because I do care. I have a car and I don’t want it to get flooded,” he said.

“We know why it floods. It floods because all our drainage is clogged with litter. It’s clogged,” said Little Havana community leader Marvin Tapia.

Tapia says he’s been fighting this battle for years.

“It’s not a surprise that you can’t get through Little Havana — that you’re going to be in two, three feet of water and it’s not just two, three feet of water — we’re talking garbage,” he said.

And a lot of that garbage still makes it into the stormwater system that dumps out into our rivers and canals that all outflow into Biscayne Bay.

Right now, state law dictates cities clean out their catch basins once every five years, but in a highly urbanized area like Little Havana. Obviously, that’s not nearly frequently enough.

In fact, according to the city of Miami’s annual stormwater report from 2020, the last one published on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, of the city’s 28,275 catch basins, only 6,758 received any maintenance-less than 24 percent of them were cleaned out that same calendar year.

“Is that sufficient you think?” Local 10 News asked City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Sabina Covo.

“No, that’s absurd. we need to increase that and we need to get the funding for that,” said Covo.

Covo sponsored a resolution adopted just last month that allocates more funding to the city’s Public Works Department to pay for two more employees and new equipment.

“Increasing the amount of vacuum trucks that we have, it’s going to be key to move forward,” she said.

It’s a start. The city’s solid waste department is also increasing the frequency of street sweeping to at least once a week.

“Minimum on a weekly basis on those major thoroughfares — on the side streets though, we don’t go on the side streets. That’s not part of the job,” according to Wade Sanders, City of Miami’s Director of Solid Waste Department.

But those side streets like Northwest Ninth Avenue are where many of Little Havana’s 85,000 residents live and work. And with rainy season here, the constant flooding is a big concern.

“This is where I was born and raised,” said Fernandez. “To me this is personal. To me this is home and I want it to be better.”

“I’m proud to be a Little Havana resident,” said Tapia. “I love to live here. It breaks my heart to see this. We need help.”

The city of Miami’s Public Works Department has been mandated to put together a plan to address the issue.

In the meantime, Miami-Dade County is taking steps to create oversight of stormwater management of all municipalities in the county. Right now, it’s up to each city to manage its stormwater and many are falling short.

About the Author:

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