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Longboat Key Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2017 5 years ago

In hours and days after Irma, town workers kept sewage system alive

A group of town employees worked around the clock to stop a wastewater overflow.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

As Longboat Key’s first responders cleared the island’s roads in the hours after Hurricane Irma, the town’s public works department was hard at work keeping an essential system running and heading off a potentially serious sewage spill.


As in most mainland and barrier island neighborhoods, power was out across Longboat Key. In addition to darkening homes and businesses, the widespread power failure stalled many of the town's 47 critical sewage lift stations. Lift stations are pumps that push wastewater through the system to a treatment plant.

Offline too long, wastewater would back up and possibly spill.

Public Works employees, some on 24-hour shifts, kept the system limping along to avoid a spill until power to the lift stations could be restored and more generators could be rounded up. The town crews ran back and forth with generators to maintain power at the stations for several days until it could be restored by Florida Power and Light.

They worked through, dark, rainy and windy conditions to refuel and connect generators for a few hours, allowing the lift stations to funnel out sewage before overflowing. Then the crews would head over as quickly as possible to another unpowered station, repeating the process for several days. 

“A lot of people who are living on the island will never see or never know,” Mayor Terry Gans said. “They did a hell of a job and a tireless job making sure we could get back and live here.”

That includes the town's utility crew of John Michael, Brad Walter, Brad Sicards, Joe Samblanet, Rich Walters, Phil D’Amato and Jason Schmidt. Public works employees Curtis Vandermole and Frank Scrivani were also on the island helping to restore power. 

Town Manager Dave Bullock said he was prepared to warn both Sarasota and Manatee county officials that a spill was eminent. Instead, Bullock said not a single drop was spilled because of the round-the-clock work from Longboat employees.

The town was short several generators after the storm but was able to borrow three from FEMA and another one from the town of North Port.

Public Works Director Juan Florensa said several department employees were among the first teams on the island along with the fire and police departments.

After a sleepless night in the hallways of Sarasota Memorial Hospital for safety's sake, the Public Works teams entered Longboat and began working before sunrise Monday, Florensa said. They continued long shifts for several days afterwards making sure the lift stations were powered. The extra generators arrived on Friday, Sept. 15, allowing for some breathing room.

“They did a fantastic job,” Florensa said. “Then on top of that they still have to go home to take care of their families and some still had some minor damage to their homes.”


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