Fort Lauderdale residents are gearing up to demonstrate on land and water next weekend, to call on city leaders to take action to fix unreliable sewage infrastructure.
To prepare for the planned 'Floating Protest' at least 30 people spent Sunday afternoon in Tarpon River Brewing making posters and painting signs. The demonstration is scheduled to take place both in boats on the New River and on land at Colee Hammock Park next Sunday.
The call to action and residents' outrage stems from six sewage spills that happened in the city last month – from the Rio Vista neighborhood to the Himmarshee Canal and Victoria Park. The sewage main breaks leaked sewage that has contaminated homeowner properties and the city's waterways.
Previous city leaders moved money out of the water and sewage fund in the city budgeting process, to use in other areas of the budget instead. The city is now in its second year of a four-year plan to wean itself off taking money out of the water and sewage fund.
A contractor is expected to begin work Monday to replace a 16-inch pipe in the Victoria Park neighborhood, according to a news release.
"I live about four blocks from where the first break happened," Lorraine O'Neil said. Her family lives in Rio Vista. "I couldn't drop my daughter off at her bus stop,'' she said.''Her bus stop is gone for right now."
O'Neil was painting a sign that read, "Fish Lives Matter." She also brought her 13-year old daughter, Lily O'Neil, along with her. Lily was working on a lime-green poster that said, "Get Your Mind In The Sewer."
"I realize that people need to start caring more about what's happening around us and what's happening to the water because it's all we've got," Lily O'Neil said. "We need to stop polluting."
The sign-making party took place inside of the Tarpon River Brewing because husband and wife duo – and brewery co-owners – Julian and Lisa Siegel are concerned that not fixing the sewage system is impacting the city's marine-centric way of life.
"Our life surrounds the river, we live on the river. Our whole existence is based on living downtown on part of the river and our kids fish in the river, " Lisa Siegel said. "We're seeing dead fish and wildlife ... we're watching dead snooks float by our house."
The Siegel's live up the river from where the sewage mains have broken.
"We live on the fork of the river. We get the smell, we got the debris,'' Julian Siegel said. "You know, we're Tarpon River, the neighborhood is Tarpon River - let's have a family-friendly sign-making party here."
The Siegel's friend – and Fort Lauderdale fishing guide – Jeff Maggio is one of the main organizers of next week's rally where all the signs will be displayed. He said the only way he sees getting water quality issues and sewage issues fixed, is by persuading city leaders to make the issues a priority.
"Then, we want to be able to hold them accountable for what they say they are going to do," Maggio said. "Everybody knows the infrastructure's been failing but they kick this can down the road and they wait for disasters like this to happen … I think, finally, it's getting to a boiling point."
City officials have several public meetings planned this week to address the sewage spills, and how to fix the pipes for good.
- Monday Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall: The City Manager, Chris Lagerbloom, will be speaking about sewage issues with residents during a District 2 pre-agenda meeting.
- Tuesday Jan. 7 at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall: The city commission will discuss the December sewer main failures and the replacement plan at its conference meeting. Agenda, here.
- Tuesday Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. there are several infrastructure and sewage-related items on the regular city commission meeting agenda.
- Thursday Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis will hold a special 'infrastructure update' and share the city's progress and future plans for replacing the aging pipes. Many are estimated to have been built and installed in city neighborhoods between the 1940s and 1970s.
Maggio said he'll be present at each of the meetings this week and is ready to show city officials next week that boaters and residents still want repairs to happen at a faster pace.
The O'Neils will also be at next week's rally.
"I just wanted to teach her that we all needed to gather together if we want to change our city's future," O'Neil said of her daughter. "I'm hoping [city officials] come up with a master plan that works. They need to talk to their constituents, us, the residents. We have good ideas."
To keep up with the city's latest response to the December sewage main breaks and the environmental cleanup efforts, visit. www.fortlauderdale.gov.