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Fort Lauderdale Officials Respond To $1.8 Million State Fine For Sewage Spills

The Rio Vista neighborhood was one of several areas in Fort Lauderdale hit by a sewer break in the past couple of months.
Susan Stocker
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Pipes in Fort Lauderdale keep breaking--it's been an almost daily reality for many people living and working in the city.

More than 200 million gallons of sewage have spilled from busted pipes in Fort Lauderdale since December.


The state responded to the sewer spills this week. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection fined the city almost two million dollars. That amount is based in part on how much sewage has spilled.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about the issue with WLRN’s Broward County reporter Caitie Switalski and Fort Lauderdale’s deputy city manager Rob Hernandez.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: What are the funding options if the city has to pay the state this $1.8 million fine or any fine for that matter? 

ROB HERNANDEZ: Well, if we have to pay the fine, it's either going to have to come out of the Water and Sewer fund or the city's general fund. And again, we believe that $1.8 million will best serve our our local residents and our taxpayers by being reinvested into some of these projects rather than just going in and being deposited into a general fund at the state level. We're not being critical of the state. We understand that they were in the position where they felt that they had to take some sort of action. But we're hopeful that we'll be able to work something out that is slightly different than just the fine. 

CAITIE SWITALSKI: When it comes to the punitive nature of the fine, $1.4 million of the $1.8 million is civil penalties based on how much sewage and how many days the sewage spill went on. I know the city is in the middle of weaning off trying to take money out of those funds [general or Water and Sewer funds] to balance the regular budget. That was a practice leftover from the last city administration. But if the city has to pay part of this fine out of those funds again, have you heard from any residents about that? 

HERNANDEZ: No, we haven't heard from any residents. And certainly I don't think it's going to change the practice. The city commission has made it abundantly clear that we were going to transition away from transferring funds from the Water and Sewer fund into the general fund. The city commission that's currently in office directed the city manager to transition us over a four-year period. They have since directed us to accelerate that transition. And that's something, going into next fiscal year, that we're certainly looking at. If there's an opportunity to return those funds at midyear this year, that's something that our city manager is looking at.

But I don't think that the fine is going to derail us from making progress. And using your word, "weaning" ourselves off of that budget transfer. We're under clear direction that the funds that are generated by the Water and Sewer fund are going to go back into the necessary improvements that need to be made. And certainly we've been working in that direction for the last couple of years and we will continue to do so.

The transcript of this interview has edited lightly for clarity and brevity.

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Alexander Gonzalez is a recent graduate of the University of Miami. He majored in English and was the the editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane newspaper from 2014-15. He was WLRN's digital intern during summer 2015. He subscribes to too many podcasts and can't get away from covering the arts in Miami.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.