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Longboat Key Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 2 years ago

Longboat Key looks to advance redundant pipe project

After June's sewage break, the town is waiting to hear back from the state about a potential fine and corrective action.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town of Longboat Key and its independent contractor Environmental Science Associates are continuing to test the Sarasota Bay waters after June’s sewage pipe break.

ESA principal associate Dr. David Tomasko wrote in a July 24 email to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman that he believes crews should conduct one more round of testing at the water-sampling sites near the sewage break.

“As you can see, the samples along the transect show the lowest values recorded, on average, over the past sampling events,” Tomasko wrote.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town will consult with ESA on whether further testing is needed based on results showing the “lowest bacteriological results to date.”

“We are going to rely on our environmental consultant,” Harmer said. “They are indicating that they think that the testing has been productive and based on the results, that we can start to transition from the ongoing testing.”

In July, ESA tested several different sites for enterococci and fecal coliform bacteria.

Tomasko sent the town two charts on testing for both types of bacteria. Each of the sites is well below the Class II water thresholds based on results from July 13 and 15.

The town has also contracted Berkeley Research Group to estimate the total discharge amount and to determine the cause of the hole in the pipe.

“I’ve advised them that the No. 1 priority for their work is to evaluate the actual estimated spill amount and provide any formation that they can on what they think that number was compared to the original estimate,” Harmer said.

On June 29, town officials reported to state regulators an estimated 25.8 million gallons of untreated sewage might have spilled in the break of the 20-inch pipe under Sarasota Bay to a Manatee County treatment plant.

Harmer has asked BRG for a date on when they’ll be able to provide an updated estimate, which he has not received yet. He believes the estimate is high.

BRG has not determined the cause of the pipe break yet either, Harmer said.

The town is also still waiting to hear back from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after submitting several reports about the sewage break.

Harmer said the town had a “productive call” in July with the FDEP. While Harmer does not know when the town will hear back from the FDEP, he anticipates the department will issue a fine and corrective action.

“I don’t want to assume too much until we see what they send us,” Harmer said.

Harmer said he wants to make sure the town is cooperative with the FDEP.

Meanwhile, the town is moving forward with its plans on a redundant pipe project.

“I do anticipate an update to the commission after recess on where we’re at with the permitting and some options going forward,” Harmer said. “By then, if we have any written notice from the state, we would also update them on how we would be responding to that.”

The Longboat Key Town Commission is set to meet again on Sept. 14.

The town has retained Carollo Engineers, Inc. to begin conversations with state and federal agencies about the possibility of adding a redundant pipe.

“They’re aware of the desire of the town to get the redundant pipe permitted as soon as possible,” Harmer said.

The pipe that broke was built in 1973 and gathers sewage from the entire town. It pushes sewage east from a pumping station on Gulf Bay Road underneath Sarasota Bay and terminates at a treatment facility next to the Manatee County Golf Course in Bradenton.

Harmer said the town is in the design plans and permitting phase for the redundant pipe. Town leaders would then hold some sort of public workshop between fall 2020 and spring 2021. It’s unclear what exactly a public workshop would entail yet because of ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the sewage break, during a June presentation by Carollo to town commissioners, plans showed final permit approval for the redundant pipe project is scheduled by May 31, 2021.

The red line on the chart represents the 10th percentile threshold values of 130/100 milliliters for enterococci bacteria. It represents the bacteria threshold for Class II waters.
The red line on the chart represents the 10th percentile threshold values of 43/100 milliliters for fecal coliform bacteria. It represents the bacteria threshold for Class II waters.


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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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