The more than seven million gallons of sewage Titusville spilled into the environment just before Christmas last year could wind up costing the city more than a half million dollars.
Titusville faces up to $200,000 in state fines for a pipe break five months ago at Sand Point Park that leaked the raw sewage into ponds that flow to the Indian River Lagoon, which has been under ecological duress for decades.
City officials are lobbying to lower the potential penalty, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has yet to make any formal proposed fine or order to force the city to improve how it manages its sewage.
The spill is associated with the city’s Osprey sewer plant, at 1105 Buffalo Road, just north of Sand Point Park. The plant has a recent history of falling out of state compliance.
DEP issued a consent order early last year to force the city to finish construction improvements at the plant by November 2022. That order was because in September 2019, a DEP inspection found the plant failed to meet limits for fecal coliform and suspended solids. Due to that and and other noncompliance over the past five years, DEP added $61,675 to the proposed base penalty for the more recent violation.
City officials spent $377,163 responding to the spill, city documents show. Most of that, $196,000, was to haul away 3.3 million gallons of sewage-laden water from the park. In an email dated April 5 to state environmental officials, Sean Stauffer, the city’s water resources director, called that money the city’s “investment in the repair and recovery.”
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Stauffer did not reply to FLORIDA TODAY’s calls or emails.
DEP officials say the money the city already spent will have no bearing on any potential future fine.
Meanwhile, as DEP pursues enforcement on the larger sewage leak, a couple of sewage pipes broke in late April, within two days of each other:
According to information the city provided to DEP, those pipe breaks leaked a combined 108,000 gallons of raw sewage as follows:
6:40 p.m. April 29 — 60,000 gallons of sewage spilled near 700 Columbia Blvd. but was contained on site. City crews used a vacuum truck to recover about 20,000 gallons of escaped sewage and disinfected the area. “No surface water bodies or waters of the state were affected,” city officials told DEP. Investigation found a 10-inch cast-iron force main split, creating a 6-inch hole in the bottom of the pipe.
4 p.m. April 27: 48,000 gallons of sewage spilled and was contained on site after a contractor installing power poles along Cheney Highway hit and damaged a 6-inch PVC force main pipe. City crews used a vacuum truck to recover escaped sewage and washed the area down with disinfectant. “No surface water bodies or waters of the state were affected,” city officials told DEP.
The larger spill won’t affect the potential penalties for the April spills, said Ashley Evitt, spokeswoman for DEP in Orlando, because the more recent spills were associated with the city’s Blue Heron sewer plant, not the Osprey plant.
“We treat those completely separate because they are separate facilities,” Evitt said.
In the mid-December spill, more than seven million gallons of raw sewage leaked from a sewer pipe at Sand Point Park, 72 times the volume the city cited in initial reports about the pre-Christmas spill.
Fish began to die in the Sand Point Park’s ponds on or around Dec. 16, but city officials weren’t able to identify and dam off the spill until Dec. 19, the city’s online updates say.
Most of the sewage was contained in the park’s ponds, DEP officials said. It’s uncertain what volume reached the lagoon. The spill happened the same year that a Florida law that doubled fines for sewage spills took effect.
The spill was “one of the most complex sewer system repairs made by the City in the last twenty years,” Stauffer wrote in an April 5 email to DEP officials.
For that and other reasons, he has been lobbying DEP to lower any potential fine against the city.
“The City is expecting a penalty for the release of sewage to surface waters which is a clear violation of the Osprey WRF NPDES permit,” Stauffer wrote in a March 19 email to DEP officials, referring to the Osprey sewer plant’s stormwater permit. “It is considered double jeopardy to again levy a separate and distinct penalty for a release to a stormwater system.”
The spill happened when a sewer force main failed in the west pond at Sand Point Park.
“City crews faced many challenges including working in a dangerous underwater location, finding repair materials, combating time pressures due to flow from contributing lift stations, and working with a concrete slab covering the pipe that was not compliant with construction detail,” Stauffer explained to DEP.
The cause of the force main failure was “improper installation in 1998. “Throughout this event the City of Titusville took every step to address the issue as fast as possible to protect our citizens and natural resources regardless of costs,” Stauffer wrote DEP.
At the request of DEP, the city sampled for E.coli and fecal coliform bacteria in the stormwater pond to ensure protection of public health, Evitt said. “Test results have indicated that bacteria levels have subsided and met water quality standards,” she said.
The city posted bacteria test results on its website.
“While stormwater ponds are not required to meet these standards, the city used them as guidelines,” Evitt added. “Given this, the City of Titusville notified the department they would resume utilizing the ponds as designed. To be clear, the city utilizes these ponds for stormwater, not treatment or storage of sewage.”
Titusville already spent $377,163 responding to the sewage spill. Most of that, $196,000, was to haul away 3.3 million gallons of sewage-laden water from the park.
- Hauling of 3,370,400 gallons of contaminated stormwater = $196,380
- City Forces Burdened Labor = $68,537.28
- Emergency Contractor = $67,000
- Nutrient Management Evaluation = $40,670.87
- Sampling and Testing (in-house) of 75 FC and Ecoli Samples = $4,575
Source: Sean Stauffer, Titusville’s water resources director, April 5, 2021 email to DEP officials.