Port Everglades boss: We didn’t check whether dumped ship wastewater was contaminated

Port Everglades contract hauler Cliff Berry Inc. removing wastewater from a cruise ship for disposal.

By Dan Christensen,

Faced with an auditor’s findings that 2.5 million gallons of ship wastewater was dumped at Port Everglades, acting Port Director Glenn Wiltshire told county commissioners the port does not check to find out whether the wastewater is contaminated with hazardous substances.

Rather, the port simply accepts what ship captains say about the condition of the wastewater.

The commission, at its regular Tuesday meeting, was discussing County Auditor Bob Melton’s stunning 337-page audit that found “gross mismanagement” at the port. The mismanagement led to mass employee theft, millions of dollars in unverified county credit card purchases and millions more in apparently lost rent from tenants at the port’s Foreign Trade Zone. But the focus of the talk was on ship wastewater dumping.

Several commissioners had already expressed concern about the practice – with some calling for outlawing it – when Commissioner Mark Bogen zeroed in on Wiltshire about the port administration’s role in what happened.

“Mr. Wiltshire, are you aware of how the port – which you oversee, right? – how the port determines whether a ship is dumping regular wastewater or oily stuff? How do they today determine that?”

Wiltshire launched into a technical discussion of ship manifests and the Environmental Protection Agency’s permitting process for handling multiple waste streams that ships might handle, but Bogen cut him off.

Port doesn’t verify

“OK. Let me stop you. You’re talking about [it] as though you are going to trust people and they’re gonna do what they say, right? I’m asking you how does the Port verify whether they are being honest or not?’’

Wiltshire responded: “We currently are not doing anything to verify it. We accept the manifests signed, generally, by the ship’s master.”

Wiltshire later said that allowing ships to discharge wastewater was “a service offered by the port.” He said the port was paid for the service, “but not a lot.”

Earlier, Commissioner Nan Rich stated that Port Everglades is the only port in Florida that allows disposal of wastewater from vessels into the sewer system. She urged that testing of that wastewater be required. “When you read this report it’s frightening that we are doing this to our environment and our underground,” Rich said.

“Testing is quick, easy and cheap,” said Melton. “There is no reason they should not be testing at least on a random basis.”

Commissioner Lamar Fisher went further. “I am in favor of not having any dumping at all, like Miami and Port Canaveral.”

County Administrator Bertha Henry said she will present at a future meeting a proposal for dealing with the situation to include consideration of the fact that some of the ships that dump wastewater are Navy and Coast Guard vessels.

Move to ban dumping next month

County Attorney Andrew Meyers, in response to Bogen’s request that he find a legal way to ban all wastewater dumping at the port, said he will bring back on Jan. 7 a motion to set a hearing for Jan. 28 to amend the port’s tariff structure to outlaw dumping. Meyers said he would explore whether a carve out for military vessels might be necessary to avoid “any unintended consequences.”

While it is unclear whether such a measure would pass, it was clear, as Bogen said, that “everybody here says we should at least have testing.”

Wiltshire said testing would begin with the “next ship that indicates they want to discharge sewage into the port.” County water and wastewater division personnel will do the actual testing, Wiltshire said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Steve Geller asked Henry about the status of the ongoing search for a port director to replace Steve Cernak, 63, who died last March.

She declined to speak about it in public, but said she wants to meet with each of the commissioners about it privately.

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