When you woke up this morning, you probably turned on your faucet and shower and flushed your toilet. The water was almost certainly safe to drink, voluminous enough for a shower and went down the drain without any troubles, because of the work that the town’s Public Works Department does every day.
“Some of the work the Public Works employees do is really invisible to you,” said Public Works Director Juan Florensa at the Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key’s June 12 breakfast meeting.
Public Works employees seldom take center stage throughout the country. Florensa explained how police and firefighters are often the subject of TV shows and movies. He recalled one character based on a Public Works employee — Art Carney’s Ed Norton character from “The Honeymooners,” who was a sewer worker.
Florensa explained how the department touches residents’ lives every day in ways that the public often doesn’t see.
Public Works is responsible for wastewater services, the island’s 10-mile beach that’s owned by the state and maintenance of parks, roadsides, traffic control devices and town buildings and grounds.
One of the most visible projects the department oversees is beach nourishment. Like most barrier islands, the town’s beaches have experienced significant beach erosion — a phenomenon that occurs because sand constantly moves but manmade structures remain in place. Since the 1990s, the town has spent between $40 million and $50 million on beach projects.
The town is currently placing sand at the north end to offer protection until it can construct two sand-saving groins.
Florensa described the lengthy permitting process for beach projects:
The town completes a single application that both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, each coordinating with various other agencies must approve. Typically, the process takes a year or two.
But that’s nothing compared to the permitting process of another major project that’s currently in the planning stages: replacement of the town’s 12,000-foot water forcemain that carries the 2.5 million gallons of wastewater that the Key generates on a typical day to Manatee County.
Built in 1973, when environmental regulations were lax, the pipeline traverses some of the most fertile seagrass habitat of Sarasota Bay.
Florensa estimates an open marine trenching permit could take five to 10 years to obtain for the $20 million to $25 million project.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].