By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Village of Pinecrest officials are ramming through an $11.4-million proposal that would connect roughly 700 properties that currently use water wells to the Miami-Dade water system.
To pay for most of the project, the village council recently authorized using $7.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government. Affected homeowners would pay the balance through a special assessment of $9,000 levied on each water well property.
Some Pinecrest taxpayers oppose the plan because they believe the federal money should be used on projects that would benefit the entire village, and because numerous water well property owners do not want to connect to the county’s system. Delores Mastrangelo, a Pinecrest homeowner who would have to pay the special assessment, said she and many of her neighbors are happy with their water wells and don’t want to switch.
Mastrangelo and six other homeowners interviewed by Florida Bulldog accused Pinecrest council members and administrators of ignoring the will of voters who overwhelmingly rejected a 2019 bond referendum that would have financed the county water hook-ups. “I am fighting tooth and nail against this,” Mastrangelo said. “They are going against the will of the people. There is no doubt about it.”
June Teufel Dreyer, another homeowner who wants to keep her well, said her water is safer than the treated water provided by Miami-Dade. “I’ve had a water well since my house was built and never had a problem,” Dreyer said. “Even though the referendum two years ago was resoundingly shut down, the village council wants to ram this thing through no matter what.”
While the village council already approved using the $7.5-million COVID-19 relief funds, the five members will hold a second and final reading on the special assessment at their June 8 regular meeting. The assessments would generate a total of $3.9 million over 25 years. Affected homeowners in the 7.6-square-mile South Dade village of about 19,000 residents would face a monthly bill of roughly $349.
Water hook-ups the ‘solution’
Pinecrest Mayor Joe Corradino and Pinecrest spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree did not respond to Florida Bulldog phone messages and emails requesting comment. However, council members Shannon del Prado and Anna Hochkammer told Florida Bulldog that hooking up the 1,300 homes to the county’s water system is absolutely necessary and that the hook-ups qualify as an infrastructure project under the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March. Only 700 homes, which need to have additional infrastructure installed for the county hook-ups, would have to pay the special assessment. Miami-Dade has mandated all the single family properties hook up the county system within 10 years.
Del Prado said she visited a significant number of the homes with water hook-ups whose owners want to make the switch. “These residents wanted a solution,” Del Prado said. “They are bathing their children in swimming pools when the power goes out. I think Pinecrest has been looking for a solution for years and we found it in the relief funds.”
Congress narrowly earmarked what the relief funds can be used for, and water infrastructure is a type of project that is allowed, added Hochkammer. She also disputed assertions by Mastrangelo and Dreyer that a majority of the people who would get hit with the special assessment are against the project. “The sentiment we have gotten from more than 90 percent of the property owners has been positive,” Hochkammer said. “By a 20 to 1 margin, the emails, phone calls and texts from the 700 property owners show that they want this done and are willing and able to pay the special assessment.”
Furthermore, the village identified 33 home wells that have been contaminated by saltwater and chemical intrusions, Hochkammer said. “There is no question the wells are in danger,” she said. “Oddly enough, most of the vocal critics are people who already have access to potable water and they feel they are advocating for the people who don’t.”
Hook-ups divide Villagers
Pinecrest villagers have been dealing for more than a decade with whether or not to hook up to Miami-Dade’s water system. In 2007, the county provided Pinecrest with $5.8 million from a general obligation bond to hook up 1,400 properties to the Miami-Dade water system. However, the high cost of the project resulted in only half the homes getting connected. According to Mastrangelo, Dreyer and other taxpayers interviewed by Florida Bulldog, about 50 property owners who did not get the county funding feel entitled to getting their water hook-ups subsidized with government dollars.
Among those homeowners is Cheri Ball, a former councilwoman and the treasurer of a political action committee called Pinecrest H20, which spearheaded the campaign for the $15-million bond referendum in 2019. Roughly 63 percent of village voters rejected it.
Ball and her husband own a six-bedroom house with a covered pool and a water well that they paid $1.6 million for in 2016. Other homeowners who would get the federally subsidized water hook-ups include real estate developer William Kaskel, who owns a five-bedroom, $1.8-million house, and Brazilian butt lift specialist Dr. Constantino Mendieta and his wife Nena, who own a seven-bedroom estate that they paid nearly $4 million for in 2007.
Lance Kyle, whose mother owns a Pinecrest home that has a water well, said the village council is pushing for the water hook-ups even though only a small number of affected property owners want it. He started an online petition that has been signed by 200 homeowners with water wells.
“They got their heads handed to them in 2019 when they did the referendum,” Kyle said. “The people voted against it by a 2 to 1 margin. People like Ball just want a freebie.”
Ball said Kyle and other opponents are in the minority and are making opinions that are not based on fact. She noted a majority of the speakers and comments submitted for the council’s May 11 virtual first reading vote spoke in favor of the project and paying the special assessment. In addition, voter data from the 2019 referendum shows more people who live in precincts where homes with well water are located supported the bond.
“There is nobody getting a free lunch here,” Ball said. “As someone who is dependent on well water, it concerns me that [opponents] want to force me to be on well water.”
Kyle said after the village council voted on May 11 to use the C0VID-19 relief funds, he spoke with officials from the county’s Department of Environmental Regulation and Management who told him they are unaware of any contaminated water wells in Pinecrest. Moreover, the village’s list of the 33 homes with contaminated wells shows several properties were counted more than once. For instance, a property at 8891 SW 62nd Court is listed three times on the document. The same goes for a house at 6390 SW 102nd St.
The one property that had salt water intrusion in its well is right next to a saltwater canal, Kyle added. “It’s probably had heighted salinity since that canal was dug decades ago,” Kyle said. “If that’s the case, it can be fixed with dams, levees and other methods.”
Marisol McManus, a Pinecrest taxpayer who has county water but would prefer going back to a well, said the water well property owners should be allowed to choose whether they want to hook up to Miami-Dade’s system. “The mayor and the council don’t even know how many people want to keep their wells,” McManus said. “There should be a survey. This is nonsense. They want everyone to hook up to the county to allow more development, which is not what we want here.”
Mastrangelo said village officials are afraid to conduct a survey because it would prove a majority of well water property owners don’t want to hook up to the county. “It would be the easiest and most accurate way to determine who wants this and who doesn’t,” Mastrangelo said. “There is no doubt that they are going against the will of the people.”