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Longboat Key Monday, Apr. 5, 2021 9 months ago

Town leaders move ahead with environmental projects

Commissioners select well upgrades, generator replacement to satisfy state consent order connected to sewer spill.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key town commissioners voted unanimously Monday to move forward with a pair of  projects to satisfy a state consent order connected to the town's June 2020 sewage line break.

The town is proposing to bypass, clean, repair and line a wet well at Master Lift Station D on Gulf Bay Road, which would cost about $182,000. The plan also includes spending another $100,000 to replace a 2006 backup generator at the lift station.

For now, commissioners decided to forego enhancing the seawall at Bayfront Park. There was also consideration of conducting a living shoreline study with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

For now, commissioners decided to forego enhancing the seawall at Bayfront Park. There was also consideration of conducting a living shoreline study with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

“We believe both of those projects to be submitted directly enhance the sewer system, and therefore we think they’re appropriate for an in-kind [project] versus paying a penalty,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “We would rather spend the money on projects or infrastructure here at the town than paying a fine even though the fine amount is less.”

The total of $282,000 surpasses the $281,073 required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the projects. In March, the town chose to pursue in-kind projects instead of paying the state $188,382 in civil penalties and costs.

The consent order requires the town to submit its project list for FDEP review by May 3. The FDEP is set to approve the town’s project by Aug. 31, and the plan is to complete the environmental projects by February 2022.

“There’s some opportunity for some back and forth,” Harmer said. “They may want clarification or follow-up information.”

If the FDEP does not approve Longboat Key’s project list, which includes making revisions, the town would be responsible for paying the $188,382 civil penalty. 

Public Works Director Issac Brownman is overseeing the management of the town’s consent order with the FDEP. Brownman explained how the town decided the wet-well project would be worthwhile after it got cleaned last year.

“Once it was cleaned, it was determined that it would be a very good idea to line that wet well to preserve the life and longevity of that wet well,” Brownman said. “Again, all of the effluent from Longboat Key travels through that wet well before it gets pumped off the island.”

Lift Station D at 521 Gulf Bay Road collects sewage from the town of Longboat Key and pumps it to a treatment facility in Bradenton.

The proposed wet well lining project and replacing the generator would be funded in the town’s fiscal year 2021 capital improvement plan. Mayor Ken Schneier expressed his concern about whether the planned funding would prompt the FDEP to reject the proposed project as something already planned.

“I’m just wondering whether it might be a disqualified or a lead to possible disqualification if we indicated that it’s already a project that we have in mind that is funded in our capital program?” Schneier said.

Citing informal discussions with the FDEP, Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said it shouldn’t disqualify the town.

“The fact that we have built this into a budget should not in and of itself disqualify this project for consideration from the [FDEP],” Mooney said. “That said, we do have certain restrictions on the type and uses of funds that are set forth in the consent order.”

Other budgeted improvements in the 2021 capital improvement plan include:

  • Installing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition panel and pressure monitoring gauge at the Manatee County Southwest Water Reclamation Facility for a cost of $9,500;
  • Installing a 14-inch wastewater flow meter for a cost of $22,000;
  • Cleaning and inspecting of the wastewater collection system in the northern section of Longbeach Village for a cost of $26,000,

The town is in the process of advancing its redundant pipeline project, which has an estimated cost of $16 million. While the town has budgeted for the redundant pipeline project in its utility capital fund, it would not count as part of the consent order.

District 1 Commissioner Sherry Dominick said she favored the two infrastructure projects versus spending a total of about $318,000 to include the seawall enhancement and shoreline study.

“We’re going to have a very large commitment to fund a redundant pipeline in the not too distant future it seems like,” Dominick said. “It seems to me that [the] Fish and Wildlife project is a bit of a…wish list.”

Brownman acknowledged the FWC was using Bayfront Park as a pilot study area last year to analyze four different approaches to shorelines. He said FWC canceled the project because of budgeting issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. FWC has told the town it would be open to resuming the Bayfront Park study at some point.

Other unfunded projects the town considered included using wireless technology in combination with a device to get real-time data on coastal conditions in the Gulf of Mexico or Sarasota Bay; completing the walking loop at the Quick Point Nature Preserve Trail; and donating a town-owned, environmentally  sensitive land.

Schneier mentioned how unfunded projects could be addressed when the town begins its budgeting process for fiscal year 2022. The commission's first special workshop meeting for budgeting is set for May 18.

“I think that the environmental projects that have been suggested today are extremely worthwhile,” Schneier said. “I think they should be addressed through the budgeting process and through any other sources that we may be able to come up with, and partly because I think we need to be laser-focused on this FDEP order on coming up with what we are sure will be an acceptable and a certain project to present to them.

“And, if they want something different, then we do have a legitimate fallback.”

As of March, Town Finance Director Sue Smith estimated the sewage break has already cost the town $453,287.06.

The town has asked the environmental engineering firm Greeley and Hansen for hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of compensation after the June 2020 sewage break. Greeley and Hansen provided an Aug. 14, 2017, report that estimated the pipe that broke had 20-25 years of life remaining. The force main was built in 1973. In their first response to the town, lawyers for the firm rejected the notion of the town's request for compensation. 


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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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