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Longboat Key Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 1 year ago

FDEP grants Longboat Key extension on sewage break penalties

The town now has until Dec. 15 to respond to a proposed consent order that assessed $242,652 in civil penalties.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has granted the town of Longboat Key an extension on a proposed consent order that seeks $242,652.50 in civil penalties and costs after the town’s June sewage line break and spill.

The FDEP has agreed to extend Longboat Key’s response to the consent order until Dec. 15. The initial deadline was Friday.

“The extension is requested to accommodate our discussions with [the] FDEP, provide time to brief the commission on results of those discussions, and the scheduling of formal action by the commission,” Town Manager Tom Harmer wrote.

Harmer said Longboat Key requested the FDEP’s documentation to support the proposed consent order findings and required actions. He said the town’s environmental counsel received the state’s information on Oct. 13, requested time to review it and discuss it with the FDEP before finalizing a recommendation to the town commission.

The Longboat Key Town Commission is in the process of rescheduling its second private meeting with lawyers.

Ultimately, the town would schedule a final order for town commission approval at a public meeting.

Monday’s private meeting between town commissioners and their lawyers got postponed.

The commission has already held a private meeting with lawyers on Sept. 30. The meeting included Harmer, Town Attorney Maggie Mooney, the commission, attorney Ed Steinmeyer and attorney John “Jack” Fiveash.

In addition to the civil penalties and costs, the FDEP is requesting the town to make several corrective actions. It includes submitting a Sewer Overflow Response Plan; purchasing 0.30 saltwater forested medication credits from Nature Coast Mitigation Bank to offset impacts; providing documentation of the credits; submitting a correction action plan; completing an environmental resource permit application; submitting a mangrove alteration permit application; submitting an analysis of its collection system infrastructure; submitting an Environmental Protection Agency Capacity, Management Operations and Maintenance analysis for approval; and submitting a report each quarter about the progress of the projects being completed.

Instead of paying the penalties and costs, FDEP Southwest District Director Mary Yeargan’s letter states the town can choose to offset the amount by implementing an in-kind penalty project, subject to FDEP approval.

An in-kind project must be either an environmental enhancement, environmental restoration or a capital/facility improvement project. The department may also consider the donation of environmentally sensitive land as an in-kind project.

Berkeley Research Group conducted a preliminary report that found about 11 million gallons spilled during the sewage break from June 17-30. For weeks, the town has awaited BRG’s follow-up report on the cause of the leak. The FDEP estimated the leak at 17 million gallons.

Longboat Key is in the process of advancing its redundant pipe project, which has an estimated cost of $16 million.

On June 29, town officials reported to state regulators about the untreated sewage that spilled from the 22-square-inch break. The pipe was built in 1973, inspected in 2015-16 and given years of estimated life remaining.

The pipe is the only one leading from Longboat Key to a Manatee County treatment plant. After collecting sewage from the town's system, smaller pipes converge at a pumping station on Gulf Bay Road. From there, the town's untreated sewage flows through a 20-inch diameter iron pipe under the bed of Sarasota Bay. It terminates at a treatment facility north of Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton.

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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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