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Longboat Key Monday, Mar. 1, 2021 4 months ago

Environmental advocates urge town to consider projects

The town must decide on either paying $188,382 or implementing an environmental project worth at least $281,073.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key leaders still have a decision to make on how to address June 2020’s sewage break after accepting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s consent order last month.

The town must decide whether to pay $188,382 in civil penalties and costs or complete an environmental project worth at least $281,073. Any project would be subject to FDEP approval.

“We have notified [the FDEP] of the intent to submit in-kind projects,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said during Monday’s Town Commission meeting, adding town staff could present possible projects at the March 22 Town Commission workshop meeting.

Suncoast Waterkeeper founder Justin Bloom and board member Rusty Chinnis are proponents of the town pursuing an in-kind project.

“I was disappointed in the content of the consent order, but in some ways, I’m glad that the town is getting this protracted negotiation behind them, and then they can focus on doing the work needed to be done to fix their sewage system,” Bloom said.

Specifically, Bloom mentioned how the final consent order town commissioners agreed upon had a reduced fine. The initial order proposed $242,652.50 in civil fines and penalties.

Environmental advocates suggested a project to improve the town's Quick Point Nature Preserve.

The state uses a formula to determine penalties based on the size of the spill. The FDEP initially estimated about 17 million gallons spilled from June 17-30, 2020, about 400 feet from the shores of Sarasota Bay. However, a town-hired consultant estimated the spill at 14.7 million.

Also, Bloom said the FDEP's initial proposal had two types of analysis that were not in the final consent order:

  • A capacity, management, operations and maintenance analysis
  • An inflow and infiltration analysis

“Both of these are really, I think, important,” Bloom said. “They are best practices that are followed throughout the country by municipalities operating sewage collection systems.”

Chinnis said he thinks the town should reach out to leaders in the nearby environmental community to make the best decision on moving forward with a project. He suggested Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Sarasota Bay Watch.

Environmental advocates suggested a project to improve the town's Quick Point Nature Preserve.

“Just kind of a broad [panel] of people and say, ‘Hey, what’s the best thing we can do?’” Chinnis said. “I have my ideas, but there’s a lot of other people out there with a lot of expertise and passion.”

Harmer said while the town is still in the process of advancing its redundant pipe project, the FDEP has told town leaders it could not count as an in-kind project. The redundant pipe project has an estimated cost of $16 million. 

Bloom called the redundant pipeline project the “most important remedy.”

While there are several possibilities on what an in-kind project could entail, Chinnis suggested the town could make improvements to the Quick Point Nature Preserve on the south end of the island.

“It is already a town property. It’s a park, but it’s like you go past, you see all kinds of Australian pines there and all,” Chinnis said. “It’s like not being managed.”

The Suncoast Waterkeeper Board is going to monitor how the town handles the agreed-upon consent order. He said the organization would look for opportunities for public comment, public involvement and evaluating whether it is an appropriate consent order. 

“[There are] lots of great opportunities to do cool projects and find something appropriate,” Bloom said.


Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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