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Fort Myers city leaders seek answers in DEP fine

Posted at 11:22 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 23:22:35-05

FORT MYERS, Fla.  — “I’m tired of kicking this can down the road," Fort Myers City Councilman Johnny Streets tells FOX 4.

The "can" he's referring to is getting answers in regards to local waterways.

The Department of Environmental Protection slammed the city with a proposed $512,450 fine - with an additional $2,000 in processing fees.

The department says the city violated multiple surface water violations.

In addition to the more than 70 spills listed in the proposed consent order, the DEP says it found the following:

  • higher levels of arsenic at the city’s Central District Water Treatment Facility between 2018 and 2020
  • higher levels of nitrogen between 2019 and 2020
  • the city’s lack of addressing long-term elevated levels of bacteria in Manuel’s Branch - which saw a 183,000 gallon raw wastewater spill in 2020

The city has two options.

It can choose to pay the fine.

It can also opt to find an in-kind way to support an environmental project.

But that option must be valued at 1.5x's the cost of the initial fine.

Councilman Streets say that effort is not enough.

“I’m not in favor of paying, and not having a resolution as to why I’m paying and what went wrong when or where.”

What went wrong is exactly what city leaders say they’re working to learn.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson says a failure to maintain safe water doesn’t fall on just one person.

But, if someone’s responsible, he says:

“It’d be the city manager. He’s responsible for that piece of the city’s business.”

Two months ago,Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi said water testing would show that there’s no trace of “human fecals”.

But the non-profit organization Calusa Waterkeeper has said otherwise.

The DEP says the city has “not addressed or eliminated loading to waterbodies of untreated human waste, which poses a risk to human health”.

FOX 4 asked Councilman Streets if a cover up had occurred.

“If we find out this was a cover up, there’s going to be some consequences. But before we say that, let’s make sure that we get all of the facts,” Streets said.

Both city leaders say while they sort fact from fiction, they’re now looking to next steps.

“What do we do to prevent this problem from reoccurring?,” asks Mayor Anderson.

Streets tells FOX 4 the solution requires bringing all of the agencies involve together to decide on a common agreement on the state of inland waterways and how to treat them.

“We need to be all on the same page. Our constituents demand that,” he said.

Streets also apologized to the community for any "misinformation that came from the city".

The DEP’s consent order outlines a step-by-step process of just how the city is to address the violations. City council will discuss whether it will select the fine or the in-kind project next Tuesday in chambers.