Longboat Key seeks to add perspective to sewage spill

Editor & Publisher

Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman submitted a lengthy and comprehensive report describing the events leading up to the discovery of the sewage leak that spilled a reported 17,000 gallons of island sewage onto the mainland across the bay.

The leak was discovered at about 11:30 a.m. on June 29, 400 feet inland from the edge of Sarasota Bay on undeveloped, heavily vegetated land owned by Long Bar Pointe LLLP.

Leading up to the discovery, the town spent the previous 11 days communicating with Manatee County trying to discover what caused a disparity in flow meter readings. In short, what was shown being pumped on Longboat Key did not comport with what Manatee County reported was flowing through the pipe on its end.

The town coordinated valve openings and closures and at one point, Manatee closed a series of valves on its end and noticed no increase in the levels at its lift station. That indicated that sewage flowing from Longboat was not making it to the lift station. At that point, Longboat and Manatee staff began traversing the pipe route looking for any evidence of a leak. Longboat Key staff also searched the length of the pipe route by boat looking for evidence of discharge. No discharge or plume was observed.

After both Longboat and Manatee found the active leak, the Town hired E.T. Mackenzie to construct a road to the site of the leak in the heavily-mangroved area.

The pipe was repaired and placed back into service about 30 hours after the leak was discovered.


Evaluating the spill

The rough preliminary estimates show there was about 25.8 million gallons of sewage that leaked. Brownman says this estimate is being refined based on “third party forensic evaluation” that will evaluate system flow, hydraulic analysis and the accuracy of the meters.

The town has retained an environmental counsel as well as an independent research group to perform its “independent forensic investigation.”

The Town has coordinated with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) since the day of the leak.

Longboat also hired Environmental Science Associates to sample bay water and the consultant says “there was no evidence of even a short-term impact of the sewage leak on bacteria levels in Sarasota Bay.”

The Town is awaiting a Consent Order from the FDEP and says it will evaluate it with counsel upon receipt.


Future flow

The leak has prompted the fast-forwarding of building a new pipe to replace the existing 20-inch iron pipe that was installed in 1973 and put into service in 1975.

The 45-year-old pipe was due to be replaced, but a previous consultant advised the town that it could provide service for numerous additional years.

The town is using a rough planning estimate of $16 million for a new pipeline, but is seeking more information from regulatory agencies as well as help from state and federal government to help expedite the project.


Flushing out problems

Both the Town and Manatee County plan immediate enhancements to the system, to help discover future leaks that may occur. These improvements include three new alarms that would notify plant operators in Manatee County of any potential issues with Longboat Key’s flow volumes.

Manatee County has also replaced its flow meter and enhancing cross checks of data. Longboat Key is “exploring costs” to enhance or change out its flow meter on its end of the pipeline.

Brownman writes that his Public Works team “has updated emergency contacts.”


Total costs to date

Brownman reports that the Town has incurred just short of $250,000 in expenses involved in repairing the broken pipe, testing the surroundings in the water, and paying the contractors for their services.

Additional ongoing costs, not included in this total is the town’s legal counsel and the town’s hired environmental legal counsel. Additional future expenses will be incurred when the Town receives the Consent Order from the FDEP for any necessary restoration efforts, consulting, construction, and monitoring.

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