What had been noncontroversial for the past six or seven years suddenly became so in the spring when residents of the Kings Bay neighborhood of Coral Gables and some residents of the Oak Grove neighborhood in Palmetto Bay became alarmed over a bill in the U.S. House that would direct the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) to convey two acres of the agency’s subtropical research station (located in Palmetto Bay adjacent to Pinecrest and Miami-Dade County) so that a new firerescue station could be built there.
When residents near the USDA property became aware of the bill, some became concerned that the proposed fire station would negatively impact their neighborhood. Calls were made to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (a co-sponsor of the legislation) resulting in the bill being temporarily sidetracked so everyone could become better informed and made aware of the critical need for a fire-rescue station in the area.
It has long been recognized by the Metro-Dade Fire Department and the Villages of Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay that fire protection and emergency medical services are inadequate in southeast Pinecrest and northwest Palmetto Bay. As you can see from the chart, southeast Pinecrest is poorly served by the two existing fire stations — one on SW 104th Street and the other on 152nd Street — both west of U.S.1. The response times for emergencies are dangerous and that has been recognized for many years. Hence the effort in Congress to authorize the USDA to convey a small section of the research station to Metro-Dade. Because it is federal land, it literally takes an Act of Congress to accomplish that (lucky us).
Now, not only is the inadequate response time a life-safety concern for our residents, it is compounded by the fact that about 1,000 homes in east Pinecrest do not have county water. So, the homes are not protected by fire hydrants and those residents must rely on tanker trucks to deal with any fire emergency.
The objections of some Kings Bay residents (covered by the Coral Gables Fire Station at Old Cutler and Red Road) and the Oak Grove community, who, like Pinecrest, must rely on those two existing fire stations west of U.S. 1, focused on perceived noise that might be associated with a fire station. Others opposed the USDA sale of any part of their property due to historic and environmental concerns.
It should be noted that the Miami-Dade Fire Department has done an exhaustive analysis of all potential sites in north Palmetto Bay that might be suitable for a fire station (there are no suitable sites in Pinecrest). A fire department representative appeared at the Pinecrest Village Council meeting in June and said the only site suitable is the USDA property. Last week, Mayor Lerner and I were in Washington, D.C. and had the opportunity to meet with Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and members of their staffs. Both lawmakers are aware of the critical need for the fire station and encourage everyone concerned to continue to communicate on the issue.
Mayor Lerner and I also met with a representative of the USDA who reiterated that the department recognizes the need for better fire and emergency service for Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay and emphasized that conveying the two acres from the research station to Miami-Dade would not detract from the mission of the facility, nor would it have a negative impact on the environment. We were told that the USDA will review the property and determine what area would be best suited for a fire station, consistent with the best use of the land as a sub-tropical research facility.
As to noise, officials from the fire department told us that emergency and fire response crews do not always rely on sirens, but rather on flashing lights and other electronic methods. In fact, a Pinecrest resident who lives near the emergency sub-station on Red Road – one who frequently lets Village officials know when events at Pinecrest Gardens seem to him to be too loud — told the council that he never hears the EMS trucks at all. Of course, if we must balance some noise from sirens with lives and property at risk, we know what takes priority.
The real life-safety needs of a large number of our residents living in the affected areas of both communities demand that our governments, both local and national, address these concerns. While voicing contrary opinions is part of the democratic process, once the facts are known by all and the needs of the community are understood, I am confident the community will come together to see that the quality of life for all will be enhanced by having a new fire station close by and ready to rapidly respond to emergencies.
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