The island’s sole sewage forcemain to Manatee County has at least 20 more years of use, according to a study.
While a new study may persuade Longboat Key town commissioners to defer a $20 million capital project, staff worry that an influx of new development across Sarasota Bay could drive costs — and inconvenience — up if they do so.
Commissioners on Monday will discuss an analysis that estimates the Key’s 2-mile wastewater pipeline has much as 25 years left in its lifespan. Constructed in 1973, staff had earmarked $19.9 million to replace the island’s 20-inch forcemain to a Manatee County treatment plan in the next budget.
The town now has a longer planning horizon for the project, according to a June 10 memo from Public Works Director Juan Florensa to Town Manager Dave Bullock.
Lenny Landau, Key resident and mechanical engineer, had pushed for the town to analyze the thickness of the pipe prior to moving forward with major capital project. He had also conducted his own research on the utility feature, noting it may have a much longer lifespan than town staff had thought during a presentation to the Town Commission last year.
“I believe that the data provided would support a much longer life, and that inspections every 5 years be conducted to provide a basis to update the remaining life on a regular basis,” Landau said in a June 16 email to the Longboat Observer. “In any event it is clear that the estimated $17 to $25 million will not be required in the near term, which is great news considering the other major capital projects planned.”
But, the proposed 524-acre Long Bar Point development, and Lake Flores, a mixed-use community next to that, could prevent the town from using the route on which the 43-year-old pipe currently sits. Those projects are slated for vacant farmland southeast of the intersection of 53rd Avenue West and El Conquistador Parkway.
The type of horizontal directional drilling that would be used to replace the pipeline requires lots of open space for staging large machinery.
“Our problem is that if that gets developed and we want to use that route, as it is the preferred route, we would not be able to do the work with all those homes and commercial areas in place,” said Florensa in a phone interview with the Longboat Observer.
Longboat Key Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray said Long Bar Pointe has approvals from Manatee County, though the developers are revising the commercial and hotel portions of there plan. The applications for lake Flores are still under review.
“I anticipate it’ll be a couple of years before you see any groundbreaking out there,” Ray said.
Landau said he hopes staff considers installing part of infrastructure on the now-vacant land prior to the new development, though Florensa said that comes with its own complications. Still, Landau is pleased the town conducted the review.
“Congratulations to the Juan Florensa and his team for managing this very complex task,” he wrote in the email.
Mayor Jack Duncan said while he understands the predicament staff are in while trying to plan a project with so much uncertainty, he couldn’t support a replacement of the pipeline within the next five years.
“I will not vote for a $25 million expense on something where experts have told us we’ve got 25 more years to go, just because I want to resolve an issue that is going to happen in the next five to 10 years,” Duncan said. “There are other ways to approach it.”
During Monday’s workshop, town commissioners will also discuss a request from the four barrier island mayors for a new allocation of a proposed half-cent sales tax Manatee County voters may consider this fall.
Under the current breakdown, the proposed infrastructure surtax would provide the town about $170,000 annually for the next 15 years. But under the island mayors’ proposed breakdown, that number could exceed $470,000.