Officials lie to residents about pricey sewer project, claiming "mandatory"

By Lucas Seiler

The credibility of Charlotte County leaders is on the line after allegations of misleading residents of a Spring Lake neighborhood. The allegations include telling residents a controversial sewer project was mandated by the state when it really wasn't. 

"DEP did not come to us before the Manchester lock permit and say, ‘Charlotte County, you've got a problem and need to fix it... We're going to put this order on you'— that did not happen," said Charlotte County Administrator Ray Sandrock. 

Most residents oppose the project because of the cost. The project plans to switch every home in Spring Lake from septic to sewer, costing residents nearly $10,000. The county said the system is failing and polluting Charlotte Harbor.

"Somebody like myself and other people on fixed incomes, it's just very difficult to come up with that kind of money," said Port Charlotte resident Butch Dumont. 

As we found out, the mandatory go ahead for the project isn't set in stone like everyone has been told. 

For months, Dumont has listened to commissioners say they have a consent order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection—basically the equivalent of a legal obligation.

We obtained what we were told was that consent order, but the DEP said it isn't one at all. 

"It's an active permit, so there's always an opportunity to modify the permit, and if the county wishes to do a project other than the sewering, we would look at something similar, more quality benefit to alligator bay," said Jon Iglehart, director of district management, FDEP south district. 

We reached out to county officials who tell us it was a misunderstanding and they shouldn't have called it a consent order.

"I'm not going to say they lied to us, but they just presented it to us in a false way," said Dumont. 

As far as the pollution in the harbor, Charlotte County says there's no doubt that it's there—but not everyone is convinced, including the DEP.

Now that the county has the permit, it must move forward with the project. But unlike a consent permit where nothing can be changed, this kind of permit can be modified. So the county could go back to the DEP with changes to the plan if it wants.