By Jeffrey Bradley
Have you ever really heard a parrot say, “Polly wants a cracker!”? Or an editor shout: “Hold the presses!”? Did you ever really hear a drunk in a bar yell out “Play Melancholy Baby!”? Or witness someone jump in a cab and holler, “Follow that car!”? Neither have we.
Now, have you ever found yourself on Alton Road without a cloud in the sky but mystified by the water really swirling around your legs? Us, too.
What seems like a magic act gone bad happened only recently. One minute you’re walking, then, zoopty-doopty, the next you’re wading. Like, where’d all the water come from? This may be rainy season, but doesn’t it usually fall down rather than well up?
Here’s the thing—are you sitting down, Gertrude?—all that official hokum about “neap” tides and star alignments and sun/moon/earth slip-stream coefficients and inverse drag ratios is nonsense. Yet that’s what the City will tell you, or something like it. Is their information got from divining bones? Listen, you want a soothsayer then get thee to Delphi; you want a straight answer, avoid City Hall.
Minus the rhetoric and stripped to essentials, two things become discernible: 1), the land is sinking—no, no; not the run-in-circles “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” kind—but for oddly prosaic reasons; and 2) because the City has again tackled an issue on the cheap. Are things coming into focus yet? Can you guess where we’re going with this?
We’ll give you the straight skinny and you decide. See, we sit on a man-made island of tangled mangroves, muck and marl (plus sand, clay, some funky stuff called hardpan, and ossified seashells of karst and limestone)—a heaped concretion just a little more durable than chalk. Drill down, and you won’t hit bedrock but a sort of gooey slurry. You can look it up. Anyway, everything on Miami Beach nestles down into this mess like cannonballs in pancake batter.
Geologists say the earth is rebounding— still rising—thousands of years after the last Ice Age melted away. But while that frozen world lasted, sky-high piled snow depressed the land by hundreds of feet. Granted, we haven’t seen snowfall lately, but what’s happening is the same process in microcosm. Instead of the North American continent, tho’, think the Sunset Islands; instead of ice and snow crushing the land, think squat MacMansions pushing dross burdens of weighty marble into the ground; instead of glaciers ravaging the landscape, think scores of trailer-rigs rumbling their countless trips over those islands… for how many years?
The net result is the soggy, boggy land with all that weight slowly but surely subsiding into porous rock the consistency of molasses. Proof of this near-imperceptible sinking is found in the depth and menace of the ponding that occurs after rainfall, and by the ever more-powerful suction pumps needed to squeegee water from low-lying areas—which grow exasperatingly larger with each passing downpour. So bad are things that residents become trapped within or without their homes after even a moderate rain.
This supposition is easily proved or refuted. Let the City set up a triangulated GPS system (calibrated devices for surveying the rise or fall of topographical gradients within tolerances of hundreds of an inch) and—presto-chango!—we’d know instanter if it was time to man the lifeboats. Ask administration bigwigs about that when they’re off on their Mayor On The Moon, er, Move forays and what you’ll get is a lot of arm-waving, harrumphing, promises to “look into” whatever—anything but an answer. Look at it from their point of view, tho’: if they know the land is sinking then they’re obliged to do something. Or admit they can’t. And maybe—no, most probably—there is no answer, no solution, nothing at all to be done. Perhaps, simply, God has grown tired of Miami Beach. We’d like to think we’re wrong, tho’ empirical data says that we’re not.
Flooding of Alton Road never need happen. In a rare, fiscally-responsible spasm (and so they could trumpet the “savings”), the City installed huge new drainage outlets for funneling rainwater into the Bay—but declined to spend money for the most important feature—the check-valve that prevents rising water from the Bay pushing back up the pipe and pouring onto the streets! The City may try to explain things away by blaming the “confluence” of tides or the vernal equinox or because the moon is made of cheese. It’s all flapdoodle; until those outlets are retrofitted with check-valves—a pricey project—and the seawall fronting Biscayne Bay heightened, we’ll continue experiencing these mini-Katrinas.
On the bright side, City Hall will get to indulge its favorite game. You know, where a contract is let for x millions of dollars, and when the work proves shoddy or over-budget—or reveals some costly addendum that was needed but overlooked—the City gets to spend an extra 600,000K to make it right… then pat themselves on the back for astuteness. What the City calls insightful taxpayers call “wasting money”.
Such a hash. <Sigh> We’ve never lived in a place before where it floods then rains. Now, throw in the ingredients of global warming, inexorably rising tides, and a commission in flat-out denial and—voila!—a recipe for disaster.
Just add water.