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Sewage Spill In Fort Lauderdale Stopped, Now Crews Work To Replace Broken Pipe

Caitie Switalski
Crews work on Wednesday in Rio Vista to replace the broken section of the sewage main with these new replacement pipes.

It's taken the city of Fort Lauderdale more than a week to stop a sewage leak after a sewer main broke in the Rio Vista neighborhood. 

A bypass was opened after 3 a.m. Wednesday and is now diverting the sewage away from dumping into the Tarpon River. Now, the city is now working to replace the broken section of pipe.


"It's a big pipe and we have to get the one out that's there and then get the new one in. ... I would think we have that project done by Saturday morning at the latest," City Manager Chris Lagerbloom told reporters during a news conference Wednesday morning in Rio Vista. 

Cleanup is ongoing. 

The environmental impact of more than a week's worth of spewing sewage is not yet known, city officials said. There are still aerators in place in the Tarpon River to try and counteract the sewage taking oxygen out of the river.

Cleanup crews, however, have found dead fish.

Lagerbloom said the city is continuing to conduct water sampling tests. 

"We will continue to do that until we have clear results and that we know the environment has come back to normal," he said.

Until those test results come back clear, there is still an advisory to avoid water activities and recreation in the Tarpon River and parts of the New River. 

Officials also still aren't sure if the sewage main break was caused by the pipe's age (it's from the 1970s), or from some kind of stress, Trantalis said. 

"We cannot rebuild ... every foot of infrastructure in the city," Trantalis said. What we are doing is we are targeting the aging structures — the ones that have been identified as most in need of replacement and repair — and to try to do that on a systematic basis throughout the city. … It doesn't help that we have these breaks that cost us."

Over the next five years the city will be investing $600 million in sewage and water infrastructure projects, according to Trantalis.

City officials say they have estimates, but that it's too early to say what the total cost of the Rio Vista repairs and cleanup for this spill will be.

"It's not a cheap fix," Trantalis said.

Read More: More Money For Water And Sewage Updates In Fort Lauderdale's Proposed City Budget

During the last city commission meeting of the decade Tuesday night — commissioners debated whether or not to approve building a new hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach, in an area that also has aging pipes from the 1970s.

The specific sewer line under where the new Residence Inn would be built on Seabreeze Boulevard, has broken in the past an employee notified the commissioners.

Rosie Kurlander, who lives on the beach, cautioned commissioners to update the sewage system first.   

"Infrastructure — we know it's old, we know it's failing. We need to fix the water and sewer before we start any new projects," she said, fearing for the city's future reputation if another large spill were to happen on the beach. "We're not going to have anything if we have contaminated property and if it's not clean and pristine."

The Rio Vista neighborhood spill has opened up a larger conversation about new development on top of a system of pipes that is estimated to be 50 and 60 years old. 

Trantalis said Tuesday night that concerns about infrastructure — in light of the Rio Vista leak — kept him from voting yes on the new hotel. 

"I do not want to see another Rio Vista happen again in our city again and all we are doing is tempting fate by continuing to build, build, build without keeping up with the infrastructure  obligations that we have as a city."

Yet, Trantalis was the only no vote on the commission: Commissioners voted 4-1 to move forward with building the new hotel, after hearing the developer agree to help pay for the infrastructure improvements.  

Wednesday morning, Trantalis reiterated his concern about development before updating infrastructure:

"I will continue to make that argument," Trantalis said. "The city, if it continues to vote for new development, must accelerate the pace of trying to replace and improve the infrastructure. ... I'm just hopeful that we can keep pace with the amount of development that's taking place in our city today."

Paul Berg, the city's public works director, retires at the end of this week. He said the Rio Vista repairs and cleanup — and future capital improvments will be in good hands. 

"You're not going to see any let down or drop in capability on these plans," Berg said about when he leaves. "The people who are responsible for the heavy lifting on this job, they're going to be here to execute the rest of the improvements that we need to make."

Residents of the Rio Vista neighborhood that have suffered damage as a result of the sewage spill can make claims to the city's Risk Management Division by calling 954-828-5177.