Sam Accursio

Sam Accursio

There is an ordinance on the books in Miami-Dade County that says ALL ag properties are near or in the vicinity of a contaminated site.

I've been told, in a letter to me dated 1/9/20 from Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) that within the last two years they have started to enforce restrictions that have been in existence for 35 years, yet overlooked.

Previously, properties of five acres, buildable for one house, were not treated as contaminated sites. Only developers were subject to regulations that call for Phase 1 and 2 inspections.

Farms (veggies, fruit, nurseries) are governed by the EPA, FDA & USDA for pesticide use and storage. After we follow their strict guidelines for pesticide applications on the labels, then we can sell to consumers as they are deemed safe for consumption. Now the question arises - how can DERM take a position that all farmland is potentially contaminated?

This enforcement of an ordinance on farmers and new purchasers of farmland will have a significant impact on large and small growers.

It will be impossible for a young farmer or retired couple to start a five-acre farm and live on the site. As soon as someone tries to pull a permit on a five acre parcel the wrath of DERM will fall on them.

Builders were having trouble keeping up with DERM regulations. For each job, DERM was giving a new set of requirements or rules. Builders and other "stakeholders" met with DERM officials to fine tune requirements. These "stakeholders" included rock miners, developers, bankers, and environmental consultants but left out the land-owning farming community who happen to own over 60,000 acres.

In addition, Miami-Dade's Ag Manager Charles LaPradd was not notified or contacted about these series of meetings.

Being Chairman of the Ag Advisory Board for the County Commissioners, one would think our group should have been notified about this meeting, but we were left in the dark as well. With the enforcement of these regulations Miami-Dade County will exceed both state and federal requirements regarding soil contamination. It will be placing excessive and unnecessary expenses for soil testing, permitting, well monitoring and more on the landowner.

As it stands our 60,000 acres of Dade County farmland is being looked at as a dump site or an environmental accident just because it has been farmed either conventionally or organically DERM and Miami-Dade County Officials have made this judgement with no science proving it! The uniqueness of our soil as well as results from studies done by the University of Florida have been ignored. Science has shown the level of the Arsenic in our soil is less than the virgin soils in Everglades National Park. If natural lands in the Park cannot meet the criteria, how can the County direct landowners to do otherwise. DERM has had others follow strict testing on a selective basis but those requirements were not in any official writings. Code Ill of Miami Dade County was updated Sept. 24, 2020. If this passes it will become a County Wide requirement.

Dr. Yucong Li has studied soil from Ft. Pierce to Key West for 26 years, recording his findings in three books. He notes, "Soil clean-up target level is 2.1 ppm for arsenic. This clean-up level is not suitable for arsenic levels in Miami-Dade County. The ag community should not be unfairly targeted. The Interim Site Assessment Guidance is not necessary and impossible to implement on Ag sites."

In the Miami-Dade Barrier Island Study spanning from Aventura to Key Biscayne, 51 samples of residential lawns were taken with the arsenic level at 5.2mg. Arsenic levels are naturally occurring in soils and bedrock in Miami-Dade County. Everglades National Park arsenic levels range from 3.3 to 13 ppm. This is documented in the writings of Dr. Li.

Where are we today? Interim Site Assessment Guidance (ISAG) for former agricultural sites for Miami-Dade County were released on Sept. 17 via e-mail, to whom I don't know. Still nothing was released to the number one stakeholder ... agricultural landowners.

On Sept. 19th, the ISAG was brought to my attention. I called the Ag Manager who responded that nothing had been given to him. When checked into, a response date of October 17th was given. This deadline has been extended to November 17th. The ag industry has requested a further extension to December 15th because a new Mayor is coming into office coupled with an addition of several new Commissioners. This additional time is needed to update the new officials.

DERM has overstepped their mission as designed over the last 30 years. Our Mayors and Commissioners have allowed this to happen as our local DERM office has swelled to just under 400 employees. We as an industry must share some of the blame for letting this power struggle go unchecked.

We must not rely on third world countries to feed our nation. We must also consider the economic impact of all producers including foliage and hemp farms. Since March of 2020, the agricultural industry has become the #1 economic engine for the County from the #2 spot. We must protect the agricultural industry in Miami-Dade County.

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