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Longboat Key Friday, Jul. 2, 2021 5 months ago

FDEP accepts Longboat Key's environmental projects

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The town is required to complete the environmental projects within 180 days of approval.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the town’s proposed environmental projects to fulfill its consent order connected to the June 2020 sewage break.

A June 25 letter from FDEP Southwest District Director Kelley Boatwright to Town Manager Tom Harmer shows the state has approved town plans to install an upgraded flow meter and three pre-eminent bypass pumps at lift stations in the wastewater collection system.

“There’s clear closure on the in-kind portion,” Harmer said. “We’ve now both agreed of what makes sense to do as in-kind projects, and our priority was to do something that was a local benefit instead of sending the money to Tallahassee.”

Months ago, the state had already accepted the town’s plan to replace an existing 2006 reserve portable generator at Master Lift Station D.

Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman wrote a June 3 letter to FDEP Environmental Specialist Derrick Hudson stating the total of the approved projects is about $290,822. The total fulfills the $281,073 requirement as part of the FDEP consent order.

“I think that was kind of what the commission guided us to say, ‘Is there something we do here locally that would benefit the town, the residents, our ratepayers and our wastewater utility?’” Harmer said.

The need for an upgraded 14-inch wastewater meter allows for correlation and comparison with the Manatee County flowmeter on the mainland.

Brownman wrote that the need for the bypass pumps is because many of the town’s lift stations had high flows when residents returned to the island after Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

“Because of its location within a private area and with difficult access configuration through private vegetation and other elements, it became difficult to service this station with a portable generator during the power outages of Hurricane Irma,” Brownman wrote about lift stations 4F and 7F. “During a post-storm recovery effort, having to spend time and limited resources to hook up, remove, and then re-hook up a generator at this location proved problematic.”

In May, the state rejected the town’s initial proposal for a wet-well lining project. However, Harmer said the town would still plan to pursue that project.

The town also considered a $180,000 partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to examine four styles of shoreline improvements using Bayfront Park as a test area pilot study.

In February, the Town Commission voted in favor of pursuing environmental projects to fulfill the state’s consent order instead of paying the civil penalties and costs.

The town is required to complete the environmental projects within 180 days of approval or based on whether the FDEP grants the town more time. If the state’s timeline starts on June 25, it means the town would have until Dec. 22 to fulfill the terms of the consent order.

“We’re doing them as quick as possible,” Harmer said. “We should have no problem meeting the requirements in the consent order.”

Brownman wrote that it will take the town about three to four months to install the bypass pumps. It will take about four months to install the wastewater flow meter, Brownman wrote.

“We’re moving forward now with the plans to order that equipment and get it here so we can install it,” Harmer said.

Had the FDEP not approved Longboat Key’s proposed projects, the town would have been responsible for paying the state $188,382 in civil penalties and costs.

Longboat Key is also in the process of advancing its redundant pipeline project, which has an estimated cost of $21.8 million.

Environmental engineering firm Greeley and Hansen provided an Aug. 14, 2017, report that estimated the pipe that broke had 20-25 years of life remaining. The force main was built in 1973. Lawyers for the firm have rejected the notion of the towns request for compensation

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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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