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City Of Fort Myers Says It Will Remove Dunbar Sludge

Quincy J. Walters
Geologists had to cut through tall weeds with machetes to clear a path for their ground penetrating radar back in Aug 2017

The City of Fort Myers  wants to remove lime sludge from a plot of land in the Dunbar community. For decades during the 20th century, the city used a vacant lot in the predominately-black neighborhood near downtown to dump a toxic byproduct of the water treatment process.

For months, testing was done on and off the site and high levels of arsenic were found. But before any clean-up, the City of Fort Myers has more work to do.

At a workshop in January, the City of Fort Myers wanted to know how Dunbar residents wanted the lime sludge situation to be handled - completely remove it or leave the sludge where it is, fenced off.

RELATED: "Put [Lime Sludge] In Your Neighborhood": Dunbar Residents Dissatisfied With City's Dumpsite Tests

Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi told one resident at the workshop that it wouldn't necessarily be bad if the sludge stays.

"There is nothing wrong with it to take it away," Kazemi said. 

“Why not? The man on tv said they dumped the poison in the neighborhood," Shirley Byrd, a Dunbar resident, said. "Dump where you live. Put it in your yard since nothing['s] wrong with it.”

Based on the response from the workshop, the City of Fort Myers concluded that an overwhelming number of residents said they wanted the sludge removed. And now, the city says it will remove it.

But according to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Fort Myers will have to do three things.

It will have to provide a description of the type of contamination, then the city will have to give an estimated amount of contamination and finally there will have to be proposed ways to remove the soil.

DEP’s South DistrictDirector Jon Iglehart said removing the sludge will be the toughest part.

“It's expensive and it's an involved project," Iglehart said. "The material has to be placed somewhere and so it's a little more complicated than just digging and piling it up somewhere else.”

But Dunbar resident Anthony Thomas is skeptical anything will be done. He said the City of Fort Myers saying it wants to clean up the sludge is just talk, that the city is just trying to save itself from litigation

“It’s trying to stop the people from getting to the federal courthouse steps," Thomas said. "That’s all it is.”

City Manager Saeed Kazemi could not be reached for comment. In an email, a spokesperson from the City of Fort Myers wrote that the plans for removal are “still in progress”

Quincy Walters is a reporter and backup host for WGCU.
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