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Longboat Key Monday, Jan. 25, 2021 10 months ago

Longboat Key extension granted on sewage break penalties

The new deadline is Feb. 22.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has approved another request from the town of Longboat Key for a 30-day deadline extension on a proposed consent order that seeks $242,652.50 in civil penalties and costs after the town’s June 2020 mainland sewage line break and spill.

The FDEP has agreed to extend the town’s response to the consent order until Feb. 22. The previous deadline was Jan. 22 and that had been extended three times. 

“We think it’s beneficial for both parties, because we’re waiting to hear back from them on some of the big issues we raised,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said.

Harmer said the town and its attorneys are reviewing the wording of the FDEP’s proposed consent order.

“At this stage, we will review their language,” Harmer said. “We talked on the phone about the big issues, what’s required and the timing for those things, and I think it’s the devil in the details of the wording in the order.”

Harmer said the town is looking forward to reaching a resolution.

The state announced in late September it was seeking $242,652.50 in civil penalties for the break under a proposed consent order. The town can also choose to offset the amount by implementing an in-kind environmental project, subject to FDEP approval.

Harmer, Town Attorney Maggie Mooney, town commissioners and town attorneys held a few private meetings to discuss the proposed consent order. The group met on Jan. 5, 2021; Oct. 19, 2020; and Sept. 30, 2020.

In December 2020, independent contractor Berkeley Research Group determined a buried log or tree root likely initiated the corrosion that led to June’s sewage break in mainland Manatee County.

In a previous report, BRG estimated the leak spilled about 14.7 million gallons between June 17-30. The town forwarded a copy of BRG’s report to the FDEP. Longboat Key staff asked the state to use BRG’s estimate in its proposed consent order worksheet.

The state had previously estimated about 17 million gallons of sewage spilled.

In August 2020, Environmental Science Associates finished its water-sample testing in the Sarasota Bay waters after the sewage break, determining that the environmental effect was low.

Before the leak, Greeley and Hansen’s report on Aug. 14, 2017, marked the last inspection on the pipe. The force main was built in 1973. At that time, the pipe was given years of estimated life remaining.

The town is in the process of advancing its redundant pipe project, which has an estimated cost of $16 million. The project would first duplicate the pipeline on the mainland side and eventually duplicate the underwater portion, which runs from Longboat Key, under the bed of Sarasota Bay and emerging in mainland Manatee County on the way to the treatment plant.

The sewage break has already cost the town $448,392.40 as of Monday, according to Town Finance Director Sue Smith, including repair costs and other fees. 

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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