Beach project is a drain on funding

 

Beach project is a drain on funding

 

Date: October 24, 2013
by: Nolan Peterson | News Editor

 
 

Plans to dewater the Beach Road Drainage Improvements project construction site are in a quagmire, exposing oversights in the planning of the long-delayed project that threaten to further postpone completion and inflate costs.

Heavy rainfall in September left the Siesta Beach construction site flooded, which required crews to find a way to pump out the standing water before work could resume. Prior to September’s heavy rains, crews anticipated the retention pond construction site (the pond is planned to be 15 feet deep) would continually need to be dewatered due to the shallow water table near the beach. The construction water was to be left untreated and pumped into a ditch that ran across Siesta Beach and into the Gulf of Mexico.

The amount of water leftover on the site after September’s rains, however, meant that the original plan to pump water out of the retention pond and across the beach would no longer be an option. County officials familiar with the project said complaints from a nearby condominium complex drove the move to find another way to drain water off the site.

“We got a lot of complaints from Gulf and Bay,” Project Manager Mike Elfers said, referring to the Gulf and Bay Club Condominiums, which are located at Siesta Beach adjacent to the drainage project construction site. “Now there’s just too much water to pump to use the ditch.”

The new plan to deal with the greater-than-anticipated amount of water involves using the quarter-mile underground pipe that empties into the Gulf of Mexico, which was intended to carry stormwater treated in ultraviolet-light treatment units when the project was complete. The pipe will carry the accumulated rain water and construction water into the Gulf while the project is being built.

“Dewatering is a normal part of any construction project,” Elfers said. “What’s different here is how the water is discharged. We originally didn’t anticipate using the pipeline until the project was complete.”

Despite the fact that the water has been sitting stagnant at the site for weeks, there are no plans to treat the water before it is pumped into the Gulf.

According to Elfers, the water that will be pumped off the construction site will only be treated for turbidity, not for bacteria or other contaminants.

“There was never a plan to treat construction water,” Elfers said. “We don’t anticipate there being a health issue. The bacteria doesn’t have a very long lifespan, and the current flow is off-shore and southward.”

The intent of the $4.5 million Beach Road Drainage Improvements project is to prevent a repeat of 2004, when the beach was closed three times due to high levels of bacteria in the Gulf. County investigations revealed stormwater runoff from Beach Road and the Siesta Beach parking lot were to blame.

The drainage improvements will prevent further beach closures by treating runoff before it drains into the Gulf of Mexico. Rainwater will be collected in a retention pond and passed through ultraviolet-light treatment units and pumped 2,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico in an underground pipe.

The project, originally proposed in 2005, was bogged down for years by various issues, including permitting delays, problems with the bidding process and pushback from the nearby Gulf and Bay Condominiums. The latest dewatering dilemma threatens to further delay the project, which was scheduled for completion in December, well into 2014.

In an Oct. 15 email to Sarasota County commissioners, Sarasota County Capital Projects Director Isaac Brownman estimated it could take FPL up to six weeks to install the electrical service necessary for the pumping operations.

The price of the expanded dewatering operations have not yet been determined, but Elfers reported it will likely be in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The anticipated delays and cost overruns have left county officials wondering why these contingencies were not accounted for in the project’s $4.5 million budget.

“The updates that I’ve seen have raised more questions than answers,” Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson said. “This is a really expensive project, so why are the pumping costs so much more expensive than the original bid? I just want to know how far we are from completion, what the extra costs are for and why it is going to cost more.”

Contact Nolan Peterson at npeterson@yourobserver.com

 

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