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Longboat Key Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020 5 months ago

Longboat Key estimates 11 million gallons spilled in June's sewage break

The estimate is lower than what the town initially reported to the state.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

It appears the town of Longboat Key’s June sewage break was not as large as initially expected.

Independent contractor Berkeley Research Group estimated the leak from June 17-30 was about 11 million gallons. BRG’s estimation is lower than the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s estimate of 17 million gallons spilled and lower still than the town’s initial estimate of 25.8 million gallons.

“Estimates of volume through irregular openings is not an exact science,” BRG engineer Donald Olmstead wrote in a five-page report to the town. “Therefore, the flows calculated herein should be considered as a reasonable estimate subject to modification based on unknown or additional information or materials not considered at the time of the estimate.”

A news release from Town Manager Tom Harmer’s office says BRG’s preliminary report is subject to internal and external peer review before it is finalized.

BRG is still expected to report on the cause of the leak, according to Harmer. He said the town wanted the quantity estimate first.

The town is planning to send BRG’s report to the FDEP for review. The state is still finalizing its enforcement actions against the town, which could include fines.

“There’s a matrix that the state uses to determine penalties and fines whenever there’s a pollution,” Harmer said. “So we would expect, and they told us that they would be following that matrix in our case.”

Harmer said the town will have an opportunity to negotiate a potential fine.

Upon receiving the FDEP’s penalty, Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said the town would request a meeting not open to the public so town commissioners can look at it with legal counsel and determine the best course.

As of Monday, June’s sewage break has cost the town $242,454.75. The figure does not include the town’s ongoing legal costs.

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

The pipe gathers sewage from the entire town, pushes it east from a pumping station on Gulf Bay Road underneath Sarasota Bay and terminates at a treatment facility north of Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton.

Water-sample testing conducted throughout the month of July by Environmental Science Associates found the sewage break's effects on Sarasota Bay were low.

The town is examining opportunities to advance a redundant pipe project, retaining Carollo Engineers, Inc. Later this month, the town plans to submit permit documents to the FDEP and the U.S. Army Corp.

Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the town is considering three options for a “dry line” installation on the mainland side of the sewage route. The cost would be between $860,000 and $2.51 million.

“It’s currently not funded, and that's not something you want to start right away because until we have assurance from the permitting agencies that they're going to approve us to use the same route, we don't want to proceed with that. That would all be thrown away if we are directed or guided to take a different route,” Brownman said.

Brownman wrote in a town document to Harmer that the timeframe to design, permit and install a dry line is about 21 months. The town is planning to advance the final design and construction of the full project to fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

“My personal opinion is that we ought to make every effort to replace that unsure line as quickly as possible, and if possible, rely on the old line as a backup so we have redundancy,” District 2 Commissioner George Spoll said.

Lift Station D at 521 Gulf Bay Road collects sewage from the town of Longboat Key and pumps it to a treatment facility in Bradenton.

Brownman said the town would pursue opportunities for outside funding to help pay for the redundant pipe project.

The town and Manatee County have taken steps to enhance the monitoring of the current wastewater system. It includes Manatee County setting up three new alarms on their supervisory control and data acquisition system. The county has also replaced its flow meter and is in the process of building a new one.

“Looking at Manatee County, their handling of this situation during that 12- or 13-day period I would say at best was mysterious,” Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said.

Schneier said he believes further investigation is necessary.

“I know it’s our line, but so much of the information involved in this problem was completely within their hands, and that troubles me,” Schneier 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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