By Rachel Brown Hackney
The manager of Sarasota County’s Water/Wastewater Division has taken full responsibility for not making sure Siesta Key residents were aware that the closing of the island’s wastewater treatment plant had been postponed another year, and he has vowed that county staff will provide consistent communication going forward.
David A. Cash faced about 60 people during the April meeting of the Siesta Key Association, many of them angry that they had learned only after the fact that the Sarasota County Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) had signed a revised consent order that officially moves the shutdown of the facility to June 18, 2018. However, Gregory S. Rouse, the county’s engineering design manager overseeing the transformation of the plant to a master pump station, told SKA members gathered in the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church that the county plans to shut down the facility at the end of December 2017. That is a year later than the decommissioning previously had been scheduled.
Aerial of Siesta Key Water Water Treatment Plant [/caption]The FDEP permit for the plant’s operation will not end until June 2018, Rouse explained, calling that situation “a six-month float,” just in case the decommissioning is not completed as planned. For example, Rouse noted, a hurricane strike could cause a delay.
In the meantime, Cash told SNL in an April 11 telephone interview that representatives of a firm under contract with the county are going to make certain the Siesta plant’s odor controls are functioning correctly, and they are going to evaluate the possibility of using a neutralizing chemical at the “head works” — the area where raw sewage enters the facility — as a means of improving the conditions that drew numerous complaints during the SKA meeting.
Cash said he would make it “a priority to get that timeline for the neighbors.”
Nonetheless, two Siesta Isles residents — Lorie Tiernay and Joe Romano — have filed an appeal of FDEP’s issuance of the revised consent order with the county, asking that the department reverse its decision and enforce the previous closing date of December 2016.
The couple’s letter says, “Our substantial interests will be affected by the smell and sounds that [have] existed and [continue] to exist daily.”
The letter adds, “I feel that the community, particularly that which was directly affected by the decision regarding an extension was not informed of any plans for an amendment [to the consent order] or kept up to date on the progress of reaching the criteria of the [previous consent order] and that that lack of disclosure affected us materially by impeding us from making an informed decision when we purchased our home in October 2015.”
Jess Boyd, a spokeswoman with the FDEP, told SNL that the department’s Office of General Counsel received the Tiernay-Romano petition on April 11 “and will review it for sufficiency.”
Why the delay?
Amid the complaints aired April 7 about the odor and noise, resident Betsy Moss’ question hit a key point: “What’s been the holdup?”
A request by residents on Southwind Drive to change the path of the new sewer and water lines that will go under the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) necessitated a redesign of that part of the project, Rouse explained.
Second, the design team won County Commission approval to put in the new water line at the same time as the wastewater line, he added. “Those delays probably added a year onto the project,” he said.
SKA President Michael Shay summed it up: “We lost a year somewhere along the line.” The start of the final phase, on Siesta Key, was dependent on projects scheduled for the mainland, Shay continued, “and those parts [of the plan] got delayed because of changes, and because they were delayed, our part got delayed.”
The project and the timelines
Cash explained that the county bought the Siesta Key Utility Authority wastewater plant in July 2006. About four years later, he continued, the decision was made to decommission the facility and transfer the flow of effluent from the Key to the mainland. “From about 2011 until today,” Cash said, “we’ve been working on that goal.”
Rouse then told the audience that the Siesta facility will be turned into a master pump station to send effluent to the county’s wastewater plant on Bee Ridge Road and to the Central County Water Reclamation Facility on McIntosh Road, both on the Sarasota mainland. To remove the effluent from Siesta Key, Rouse continued, the county will construct a new 20-inch force main from U.S. 41, down the south side of Phillippi Estate Park and across the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), installing booster pumping stations along the way. Most of that work will take place from June to October of this year, Rouse added.
The final phase will include the construction of the new master pump station on Siesta Key at the site of the wastewater treatment plant; that is expected to start in the fall. The pipeline will come up at a staging area in Siesta Cove, he said, and go across Midnight Pass Road, down Shadow Lawn Drive and into the treatment plant. “Midnight Pass will remain open,” Rouse stressed.
The first part of Phase 3, he noted, will encompass the demolition of the bigger tanks that once stored water at the Siesta treatment plant.
The new pump station will have “quadruple redundancy,” he added, to make certain it can remain functioning in an emergency.
SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner pointed out the primary concern of residents as the projects proceed: “the odor problem.”
“I don’t feel like our voices are being heard,” Lorie Tiernay said. “We’re told, ‘We’re going to work on it, but there’s going to be normal smell,’” she added of the Siesta wastewater treatment facility. Planning outside activities at her home with the certainty that odor from the plant will not be a problem is “a luxury we’re not afforded,” she pointed out.
“Are you telling me that, from the date of the consent order until today, the county has done everything in its power, given this the full attention that it deserves?” Tiernay asked Rouse and Cash.
“I believe we have done everything possible since 2011,” Cash replied.
Then Luckner noted that when she and her husband, Bob, had spoken earlier that day with County Commissioner Al Maio about the situation, Maio recommended residents call the County Contact Center at 861-5000. The staff members who answer calls can fill out incident reports and let the callers know the numbers to reference in the future, she added.