Fort Lauderdale has long been called the Venice of America, but they experienced some water woes after a series of sewage spills staring from December 2019 to February of this year.
The State of Florida initially slapped the City of Fort Lauderdale with a $2.1 million fine after over 211 million gallons of sewage spilled across the city. In lieu of that record fine, on Tuesday, city commissioners agreed to a deal to pay over $3 million to go directly towards environmental restoration projects.
“Instead of paying to the state a fine, we use those dollars to reinvest in the infrastructure, and so we approved an initial agreement with the state to say we, the city of Fort Lauderdale, are willing and happy to work with you on this,” said Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who lives in one of the neighborhoods that were affected.
The District 4 commissioner says it’s a win-win scenario after sewage spills plagued the city.
“We’re gonna start testing our waterways, our canals and rivers here in the city of Fort Lauderdale far more than they ever have been before,” Sorensen said.
Fort Lauderdale residents like Kathy Diaz say they experienced the foul smell in December as the environmental mess clogged up waterways, killed fish and stunk up communities such as Rio Vista, Victoria Park and Coral Ridge.
“That late morning on that day this was all flooded with sewage,” Diaz said.
Some of the proposed projects from this latest deal with the state include investing in water quality testing, sea walls and mangrove restoration and other clean up measures. The agreement specified that the money cannot be spent on fixing the pipes.
“This would all be waterway environmental restoration. As you can imagine, we had significant impacts on our waterways here in the city of Fort Lauderdale as a result of the sewer breaks, and this allows us to do some very innovative, very creative things to basically start mitigating our waterways," Sorensen said. "Things like protein skimmers, things like how to evaluate quickly where a break happens."
”I think it’s very necessary that this clean up be done. I think these waterways have been damaged for a multitude of years not only since December,” Diaz said.
City leaders have blamed an aging infrastructure which was never fully addressed in the past, so the city is also spending upwards of $400 million dollars from a different fund to fix and replace their sewer system.
“We have long been working as a city commission to improve our infrastructure," Sorensen said. "Our infrastructure has long been neglected so we’re spending upwards of about $400 million dollars on improving sewer, storm water and waterway improvements in the city of Fort Lauderdale."
The city will still have to pay a $5,000 administrative fee to the state.