The island’s sole sewage forcemain to Manatee County has at least 20 more years of use, according to a study, but future issues loom in the pipeline.
Longboat Key could avoid significant sewer rate increases over the next few years, thanks to a study that suggests delaying a utility project estimated to cost nearly $20 million by as much as 25 years.
But the town still has myriad long-term issues — including the impacts of the proposed 1,300-acre Lake Flores and 524-acre Aqua by the Bay developments planned for the mainland — to address about the future of its sole wastewater pipe, which pumps sewage to a treatment plant in Manatee County.
“We’re going to need to give this some careful thought,” said Town Manager Dave Bullock during a regular commission workshop Monday.
Consultant Greely & Hansen had just revealed the results of a six-month study of the 4-mile pipeline, half of which runs directly under Sarasota Bay. The Town Commission asked for the study in December, and staff originally expected the pipe would need to be replaced immediately to eliminate the risk of the worst-case scenario: a complete shutdown, which could necessitate using dump trucks to haul sewage off of the island.
However, the study showed the force main is in good condition and not in danger of failure because no leaks or severely corroded areas were found during the analysis.
“The likelihood of catastrophic failure of the pipe is low,” Bullock said. “If something’s going to fail, we’re probably going to get a small leak — which is repairable.”
Key resident and mechanical engineer Lenny Landau, who questioned the town’s plans to replace the pipeline, was not surprised by the firm’s conclusion.
“The challenges are somewhat significant for maintaining this route.” — Town Manager Dave Bullock
“I believe that the data provided would support a much longer life and that inspections every five years be conducted to provide a basis to update the remaining life on a regular basis,” Landau wrote in a June 16 email to the Longboat Observer. “In any event, it is clear that the estimated $17 million to $25 million will not be required in the near term, which is great news considering the other major capital projects planned.”
Landau has been studying the pipe in his spare time for nearly a decade and urged the town to conduct the analysis before replacing the pipe.
To perform the study, the firm ran a “smart ball” to search for inconsistencies within the pipe through the sewage system earlier this year. Subcontracted divers measured the thickness in the pipe using an underwater ultrasonic gauge, as well, among other methods.
“That little ball you used — can I keep that?” Mayor Jack Duncan asked. The consultant joked that it would cost him $500,000. “After what you did to it, I didn’t think it’d be worth that.”
Although the finding will remove the $19.9 million capital project from the town’s $93.5 million capital budget for Fiscal 2017, staff and commissioners will have difficult decisions to make when considering the pipe’s replacement in the future, thanks to two mixed-use projects proposed on top of the current route.
The proposed mixed-use developments of Lake Flores and Aqua by the Bay — formerly Long Bar Point — are working through Manatee County’s development process. While both projects are at least three years away from breaking ground, their construction would preclude the town from using the same route for a replacement wastewater pipe.
“The challenges are somewhat significant for maintaining this route,” Bullock said.
Costs would likely rise for any other route because the town would have to secure new easements to do the drilling. Moving the route north would require a contractor to stage construction north of the Longboat Pass Bridge. With the current configuration, the contractor could do so at the edge of Joan Durante Park.
Town staff will now analyze whether to put a redundant pipe in place at the site of the two developments, so in the case of a wastewater pipe replacement, it could be hooked up on the same efficient route. Staff will also consider whether the 25-year lifespan could be extended through maintenance.
Commissioner Phill Younger praised Greely & Hansen.
“I think you demonstrated to us that you can indeed do preventative checks and preventative maintenance on this pipe and (did so) very thoroughly and professionally,” Younger said.
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