Boaters and charter captains are planning to protest the city of Fort Lauderdale’s response to several sewer-pipe failures that have resulted in millions of gallons of raw sewage being dumped into local waterways. The spills, which happened multiple times since Dec. 5, are reportedly keeping boaters off the water.
“There’s no exact number, but it’s clearly over 100 million gallons,” Fort Lauderdale mayor Dean Trantalis told the local CBS affiliate. “It’s just a sad situation.”
Although the spills have stopped, city officials have advised boaters and other water users to stay out of the impacted waterways. A precautionary advisory map for recreational activities, released by the city, includes warnings for its waterways.
Capt. Mitchel Vitale, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, told the affiliate that he not taking fishing charters. “I wouldn’t want to risk my own health,” he said. “If I cast the net for bait or splash water on my face, I could potentially get sick.”
A group of anglers and boaters are planning a protest about the city’s response. “Keeping people safe should be the priority, and I don’t feel that was done,” Vitale said. He said the city should’ve set up more warning signs around the water while communicating the situation to tourists and the larger community.
Trantalis told the news station that the city is doing all it can. He added that most water tests are giving passing results.
The mayor said the city approved $60 million to permanently repair the pipe that broke in early December. The city is also flushing out waterways. “The city and contractors are working to make the waterways clean and back to what they were, if not better,” Trantalis said.
City officials have until Jan. 10 to provide details on the “total estimated spill volume” to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“As the Department determines the next enforcement steps, which is expected to include fines, DEP will also continue to closely monitor the city’s remediation and water quality testing efforts in the impacted areas,” a DEP spokesperson told the news station.
It’s estimated that it will take $1.4 billion to fix the aging sewer system. The city plans to set aside about $200 million in five-year segments for repairs over the next 20 years.
Vitale said he’s unsure if that will be soon enough, after years of water pollution, to bring back oysters, fish, seagrass and other marine life in the canals. “We can fix the sewer,” he said. “Can we fix the water? It’s an ongoing problem because the life is just disappearing.”
Vitale said he will be part of an effort by local boaters and anglers to protest the spills and the city’s response Jan. 12.