Longboat Key faces $240k fine for sewage spill

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A DEP map indicates the location of a break in June in a wastewater pipeline from Longboat Key across Sarasota Bay to the mainland in unincorporated Manatee County. A county sanitary sewer and water reclamation facility is east of the spill. Islander File Image

The penalties go beyond monetary fines.

Longboat Key also faces a state order to replace its sewer pipeline.

Town officials at press time were reviewing the proposed order from the state setting forth penalties for spilling millions of gallons of sewage in a mangrove wetland about 350 feet from Sarasota Bay.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Sept. 28 that the town should either pay a $262,652 fine or create an environmental enhancement project of greater value.

The spill from the town’s only wastewater pipeline began June 17 on the mainland and continued until June 30, when crews cleared a path through the mangroves on undeveloped land at Long Bar Pointe to make repairs. Developer Carlos Beruff owns the land where the spill occurred.

A town consultant estimated 11 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from the pipeline, but the town maintains there was minimal impact on the bay and “nature” handled the cleanup.

A DEP estimate put the spill at 17 million gallons and the earliest estimate, provided by the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper, put the leak at 26 million gallons.

In its proposed order, the DEP said the town violated state rules by:

  • Failing to maintain equipment;
  • Discharging wastewater without authorization;
  • Failing to obtain permission to alter mangroves;
  • Failing to secure approval for dredge-and-fill activities.

As a result, the DEP said the town must pay the state $242,652.50 in a settlement or off-set the amount by implementing an in-kind environmental enhancement project valued at $362,476.75.

Also, per the order, the town must submit a sewer overflow response plan that includes procedures for sampling discharged wastewater.

The DEP proposal also requires LBK to:

  • Off-set the impact of the pollution by purchasing 0.3 saltwater forested mitigation credits from the Nature Coast Mitigation Bank;
  • Remove any fill material and return the site of damaged and cleared mangroves at the spill to “pre-fill conditions” as part of a mangrove restoration action;
  • Submit a plan, including start and completion dates, to install a new force main;
  • File permits for any impacts to wetlands, mangroves or waters with installing a new pipeline.

As to replacement of the decades’ old wastewater line that partly runs across the bottom of Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key town manager Tom Harmer said the project was in the works before the spill, with town officials and consultants working on engineering and permitting.

“We have asked them to work with the permitting agencies on an expedited process,” Harmer said. “We do not have a timeline yet on when we will be able to receive the required approvals. Once the permit and conditions are determined, we will be able to finalize the plans, funding and schedule for construction of the pipeline.”

He added, “The town’s plan is to move forward as soon as practical.”

The deadline is Oct. 23 for the town to sign and return the proposed order to the state, DEP public information manager Shannon Herbon said Oct. 1.

However, the town could reject the state’s settlement and seek a hearing.

Harmer told The Islander Oct. 1 that the town will follow up before the deadline with the DEP to discuss the order.