Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners voted unanimously to spend $65 million to replace part of the sewer main that broke repeatedly last month, leaving streets, yards and waterways contaminated over the holidays.
The new sewer main will run 7.5 miles underground and take 16 to 18 months to install.
"I commend this commission for its continued efforts to try to find ways in which to meet the demands that this city commission is now faced with,’’ Mayor Dean Trantalis said. He squarely blamed the previous administration for the environmental catastrophe: six sewer breaks that spilled nearly 127 million gallons of sewage last month.
Trantalis, who served on the commission from 2003 to 2006 and from 2013 to the present, said this commission was left “a crumbling infrastructure that was given to it upon taking office as a result of neglect over almost a decade of ignoring a problem that should have been addressed long before today."
The $65 million will allow the city to design, construct and install a pipe that will replace the 54-inch pipe, which was the first to break last month, and broke in more than one spot.
The city abandoned several planned projects in its community investment plan, including an infrastructure project on Southeast 10th Avenue, in order to be able to fund building the new pipe.
The old pipe will then be re-lined to act as a redundant pipe in case it is ever needed as backup in the future.
Earlier this week, City Manager Chris Lagerbloom described the pipe as a "spine" for the city's sewage system.
"It’s the pipe that’s under pressure that runs right down through the middle of town that collects sewage as it runs through downtown’’ Lagerbloom said. ‘’It is one of the main points of entry into the plant itself."
Some residents blame development for the city's sewage problems.
"I still remain concerned that while we are working feverishly to repair and to prevent future problems with pipe after pipe after pipe, that we continue to put pressure on this aging system by not doing something to slow down development," resident Elly du Pré said during public comment.
More than 1,650 people have signed an online petition, as of Tuesday evening, in favor of a moratorium on most new development until infrastructure issues are fixed.
"As we face the future sea-level rise, adding to the impacts of already aging and failing infrastructure and flooded and overstressed roads – we need a plan," active city resident, Mary Fertig, said. "With concrete costs and identifiable sources of funding."
Fertig has helped with the city's Comprehensive Plan on the Planning and Zoning board. On behalf of the citizen group, Lauderdale Tomorrow, Fertig asked commissioners to open the discussion about future development. She read a letter from the group to city commissioners:
"Fort Lauderdale residents need your help. Fort Lauderdale's future needs your help. We are requesting that the city hold a conversation and consider pausing development in order to establish a plan to address aging and failing infrastructure and roads," Fertig read in part.
There was also a citizen petition initiative after a 2016 sewage main break to ask city leaders to consider a moratorium on development in certain areas.
Other residents and developers told commissioners they do not believe a moratorium would help.
"If you were to just stop building things tomorrow – and we still have old pipes, well there still might be more breaks - and then you've shut off the revenue." Alan Hooper said. He sits on the board for the city's Downtown Development Authority and is the founder and president of Hooper Construction.
City leaders maintain that age and corrosion of the pipes caused the breaks, not a capacity issue from overdevelopment. The 54-inch pipe that broke in the Rio Vista neighborhood, was installed in 1973 according to Lagerbloom.
"We learn a lot about these pipes when we take them out of the ground," Lagerbloom said.
Materials for the new pipe will be more resistant to salt water intrusion, according to city officials.
Lagerbloom told WLRN he does not anticipate city commissioners will pursue a building moratorium.
"I don’t anticipate one at this point," he said "I just anticipate that we’re gonna put a lot of work in quickly and get and get these aged systems back to new."
The city has been holding several public meetings this week to address plans for sewage system repairs. The next one is a town hall with the mayor at city hall Thursday at 6 p.m.
WLRN reporter Jenny Staletovich contributed to this report.