State Regulators Expect ‘Fines’ Against The City Over CrisisBy Carey Codd

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – As a group of Fort Lauderdale residents, fishermen and boaters plan an upcoming protest over the city’s response to recent multiple sewer pipe breaks, state environmental regulators are confirming that they “will conduct a thorough investigation” into the breaks and sewage spills into waterways that “is expected to include fines.”

The city has until January 10 to present reports on the “total estimated spill volume” to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said the amount of sewage that spilled is high.

“There’s no exact number but it’s clearly over 100 million gallons,” Trantalis said. “It’s just a sad situation.”

The DEP said they are watching.

“As the Department determines next enforcement steps, which is expected to include fines, DEP will also continue to closely monitor the City’s remediation and water quality testing efforts in the impacted areas,” a DEP Spokesperson told CBS 4 News in a statement.

Trantalis said he anticipates enforcement from the state.

“We will get fined,” he told CBS 4 News. “We will get cited. There’s nothing we can do about that.” He said that while he understands the state’s efforts, he said any money spent on fines is money misspent.

“We need that money to deal with the situation,” he said.

Trantalis said the raw sewage is no longer spilling into the water but the city is still urging people to stay out of the affected waterways. For more information, click here.

The situation is extremely disturbing for boaters. Captain Mitchel Vitale grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and he makes part of his living taking people on fishing trips in the area. But not these days.

“I wouldn’t want to risk my own health,” he said. “If I cast the net for bait or splash water on my face, I could potentially get sick.”

Video from CBS 4 News and local residents appears to show pipes pumping sewage into rivers and canals. It’s prompted outrage from residents, boaters and commercial fishermen. Many say it’s led to dead fish and health problems.

“I think that’s the priority — keeping people safe and I don’t feel that was done,” Vitale said.

Vitale believes the city needed to set up more warning signs around the water and do a better job of communicating the situation to tourists and the community. Trantalis, however, said the city is doing all it can and that most water tests have come back with passing grades.

“We have multiple signs around the water,” he said. “We are constantly testing the water.”

Trantalis said the city is in the midst of a massive response, moving up construction dates and allocating millions of dollars to fix the problem. He said the city just approved spending nearly $60 million dollars to permanently fix the pipe that broke in Rio Vista in early December along with a longer stretch of pipe in that area. He said the city is also trying to aerate and flush out the waterways.

“The city and contractors are working to make the waterways clean and back to what they were, if not better,” he said.

All told, Trantalis says there is an estimate of $1.4 billion dollars to repair the system and the city plans to set aside about $200 million dollars in 5-year segments to fix the system over 20 years.

But Mitchel Vitale wonders if it will be enough after years of water pollution that be believes has led to a lack of oysters, fish, seagrass and other sea life.

“We can fix the sewer,” he said. “Can we fix the water? It’s an ongoing problem because the life is just disappearing.”

Vitale is part of an effort by residents, boaters and fishermen this Sunday at 2 pm at Tarpon River Brewing in Fort Lauderdale to make signs and discuss efforts for a large protest on Sunday, January 12th.