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Fort Lauderdale Hit With $1.8 Million Fine From State, Looks For Federal Funds To Stop Sewage Spills

Daniel A. Varela
Miami Herald
The Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection sent a demand letter to the Fort Lauderdale Mayor, Dean Trantalis, and city manager Tuesday.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is imposing a nearly $1.8 million fine on the City of Fort Lauderdale for the more than 200 million gallons of sewage spilled since December last year. 

That announcement came just hours after a Tuesday meeting where Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners were briefed about their options to seek state and federal dollars to fix the city's deteriorating sewage infrastructure. 

The fine includes more than $1.4 million in civil penalties, based on how much sewage spilled and for how many days before the city could stop the leaks. Five of the sewage breaks cost the city $10,000 per day in civil penalties. The city is also being charged $5,000 for what it cost DEP to investigate the sewage breaks. 

"I was hoping that before the state would impose a fine that they would approach us," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told WLRN at City Hall on Tuesday. "We would hope that we can work with the state to use that money and to apply it towards the rebuilding process that we've already undertaken and work together with the state, as opposed to being the enemy."

The DEP included an extra note when sending WLRN a copy of the letter: "Our message to members of the community: You have been through a lot in recent months and we appreciate the magnitude of the issues you are currently facing. I can assure you that Governor DeSantis and DEP will continue to keep your communities’ recovery a top priority while ensuring measures are put in place to prevent future spills and local officials are held accountable for maintaining, monitoring and repairing critical infrastructure."   

The state wants the $1,796,500 bill paid in full by March 31, 2020, according to the demand letter it sent city leaders. At the time WLRN asked Trantalis about the letter, he had not yet received it.  

Trantalis said the city is working 'aggressively' to tackle the sewage issue. 

But it's been hard to keep up. 

Another water pipe broke near 800 E. Broward Blvd. on Monday afternoon. Currently, the city has a precautionary boil-water notice for several properties on SE 8th Ave.

"We're at crisis level," Trantalis said about the entirety of the infrastructure situation. 

Many of the cast iron pipes were installed in 1970.

Read More: Broward County's Tourism Bureau Unveils New Vision, Doesn't Feel Threat From Pipe Breaks 

Maurice Kurland, who represents the city's federal agenda in Washington D.C. with the lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay, gave commissioners the federal funding advice at their Tuesday meeting. 

Kurland believes the city has two potential avenues: a loan from the State's Revolving Loan Fund Programs, or pursuing federal authorization by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an environmental quality project. 

The Army Corps option takes a long time, Kurland told WLRN, but would allow Congress to then appropriate federal dollars to make the infrastructure fixes if Fort Lauderdale were to get authorization. 

"It's our position to provide the city with all the available options and to advise them where there may be limited options," he said.  

Kurland was brought in by the Fort Lauderdale City Manager's Office to brief commissioners on their funding options while on his annual trip to the city. 

"Like everything, if you can handle things locally, that's one less step you have to deal with," he said. "If you're having to deal with statewide agencies and the federal government, you've got to work your way through that process – infrastructure projects are generally large, the time horizon is long." 

Trantalis said Kurland's presentation underscored the lack of funding sources available to cities like Fort Lauderdale at the federal level.

"Cities are left to their own devices, their own resources, to try to come up with the available money to handle this," Trantalis said.  

When it comes to the long timeline that comes with vying for federal dollars, Trantalis joked, "we should apply now for the rebuilding of the infrastructure that we're putting in today."