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Longboat Key Monday, Mar. 8, 2021 1 year ago

Longboat Key seeks funding from engineering firm after June 2020 sewage break

Greeley and Hansen provided inspected the pipe and gave the town a report in August 2017.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town of Longboat Key is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of compensation from an environmental engineering firm that inspected its sewage pipe about three years before the June 2020 break.

Longboat Key Town Attorney Maggie Mooney wrote a letter dated March 2 to Michael Knowles of Greeley and Hansen, LLC.

“We hereby respectfully demand that GH fully indemnify the Town for all of the expenses it has incurred or will incur as a result of GH’s negligence and the resultant force main break,” Mooney wrote. “We also request that GH identify all subcontractors that it used in providing the services to the Town. 

“If you have not already done so, you should immediately notify your insurance carrier of this demand for indemnification.”

The Longboat Observer called and emailed Greeley and Hansen several times with a request to comment but did not hear back.

After accepting a consent order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in February, the town must either pay the state $188,382 in civil penalties and costs, or offset the amount by implementing an in-kind environmental project worth at least $281,073. The town has provided the state notice it plans to pursue an in-kind project, which is also subject to FDEP approval.

As of March 1, Town Finance Director Sue Smith estimated the sewage break has already cost the town $453,287.06. Town Manager Tom Harmer said the money the town is asking from Greeley and Hansen also includes the cost of the FDEP consent order.

“Absent that leak, we would not have had those costs, and so it’s costs that we’ve spent and costs that we may have to spend, and some of those we won’t know yet because in the consent order, we had to do further work,” Harmer said. “We have to do some surveying and soil testing and other back and forth with FDEP to finalize to finalize some of the mitigation and restoration plans.”

According to Greeley and Hansen’s report on Aug. 14, 2017, the pipe that broke was given an estimated 20-25 years of life remaining. The report recommended future assessment and reinspections of the pipe in four to five years.  The force main was built in 1973.

A town-hired consultant estimated about 14.7 million gallons of sewage spilled from June 17-30, 2020, about 400 feet from the shores of Sarasota Bay.

Harmer said it was “too early” to know how much Greeley and Hansen would agree to pay back.

“I think they’ll be further discussion between the town and Greeley and Hansen, and depending on their response, we’ll brief the commission, and at some point, if the town or the commission feels like they’re non-responsive, then they’ll be further discussion about what our options are, whether that’s litigation or otherwise, but that may be a subsequent step depending on how the conversations go,” Harmer said.

Harmer said Public Works Director Isaac Brownman is planning to brief commissioners on potential environmental projects during the April 5 Town Commission meeting.

“Our Public Works team are identifying projects that they think would qualify, and we anticipate there’ll be more than one,” Harmer said. “It’ll be a combination of projects.”

Once town commissioners are briefed on the projects and agree with the list, the town would then submit it to the FDEP for approval.

Harmer told the Longboat Observer at the start of the month that the town’s plans to build a redundant pipe project would not count as an in-kind project. The redundant pipe project has an estimated cost of $16 million. Town documents show the town has budgeted for the project in its utility capital fund.

In December 2020, consultant Berkeley Research Group found a buried log rubbing against the underground pipeline likely caused the break.

In August 2020, Environmental Science Associates determined the environmental effect of the break was low based on its water-sample testing in the Sarasota Bay 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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