Fort Lauderdale Fined Nearly $2 Million for String of Sewer Leaks

(AP) — The state of Florida is fining the city of Fort Lauderdale $1.8 million for a series of massive sewage spills that have sent toxic sewage onto streets and into waterways since December. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Mayor Dean Trantalis on Tuesday notifying him of the fine, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.

The mayor had hoped for no fine at all, so that the money could be invested instead in fixing the faulty pipes.

“The state should realize the problems all of its cities have (with aging sewer pipes),” Trantalis told the newspaper. “Fort Lauderdale is not alone.”

But Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the environmental agency’s secretary, Noah Valenstein, to pursue every available penalty. “Those that spew untreated wastewater into Florida’s water bodies need to be deterred from doing so by appropriate penalties,” DeSantis said.

“Fort Lauderdale is an example where you had aging infrastructure not adequately addressed by the municipality,” Valenstein told the SunSentinel.

Officials said 212 million gallons (800 million liters) of sewage has flowed into waterways and neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale since December.

The first string of leaks began on Dec. 10 and continued through Dec. 31. A total of six leaks spilled over 126 million gallons of sewage across the city.

Another spill totaling 84.7 million gallons occurred between Jan. 30 and Feb. 8 from a single 42-inch pipe.

He said it’s the largest untreated wastewater spill in Florida’s history.

A consent order approved in 2017 after an earlier series of spills laid out $117.5 million in required sewer system repairs and improvements through 2026, and provided for state fines of $10,000 a day in the event of future spills of more than 100,000 gallons (378,500 liters).

The fines announced Tuesday include $341,500 for recent sewage spills, a civil penalty of nearly $1.5 million and $5,000 in administrative costs. The money will be deposited into a statewide water quality assurance trust fund and can be appropriated by the Legislature to water-related projects across the state, the SunSentinel reported.

“We are at a crisis level,” the mayor said before learning of the fine. “We are now suffering the long-term consequences (of long-neglected infrastructure maintenance).”

The deadline for paying the fine is March 31.

— UC Staff contributed to this report

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