Fort Myers City Council OKs $150K for legal defense as Dunbar sludge lawsuits loom

FORT MYERS, Fla. The city is girding itself for lawsuits over a former sludge dumping site in Dunbar.

The area bounded in red shows the site in Dunbar where sludge from a water treatment plant was disposed of.

City Council voted Monday to approve spending $150 thousand to hire attorneys.

Council members Johnny Streets, Fred Burson, Theresa Watkins Brown and Michael Flanders voted to approve the spending. Councilwoman Terolyn Watson who opposed the spending.

At least 11 nearby residents have threatened legal action over the lack of disclosure of arsenic discovered at the site where the city used to dispose of sludge from a water treatment plant.

“I personally say I’m sorry for what happened years ago,” said City Council member Johnny Streets, whose ward includes the site. “I inherited it. It’s my responsibility now. We’re going to take care of business.”

Arsenic was discovered at the site in 2007, and in the groundwater there in 2012, but those results didn’t become public until earlier this year. An outcry led the city to test the site again in recent months, and preliminary results from the latest test showed elevated levels of arsenic in four of the six wells there.

SERIESClick here for complete coverage of Dunbar toxic sludge site

The city initially called those results “inconclusive,” but one of the wells had a level of arsenic five times the allowable amount.

Several residents who live by the site spoke during Monday’s council meeting of medical conditions, including cancer, that they attribute to arsenic exposure.

Streets rejects the idea that the city’s legal defense efforts represent a fight against constituents.

“There’s no adversary here,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the people, not necessarily the city, because we created the problem.”

Sen. Bill Nelson and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection chastised the city last week for failing to release those preliminary results for two weeks. City Manager Saeed Kazemi said he was waiting for the results to be certified and reviewed by a consultant.

The consultant asked for more time to test in the area surrounding the site, Kazemi said.

Certified results appear to be posted on a city website dedicated to the testing, along with a cover letter dated Nov. 29 from GFA International Inc., the geological firm that performed the tests.


Oliver Redsten