Under increasing fire from environmentalists for recent sewage spills impacting the beleaguered Indian River Lagoon, the City of Titusville is eyeing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to cover the costs of a pending list of infrastructure plans.
The Christmas season marks one year since 7.2 million gallons of raw sewage leaked into the Indian River Lagoon near Sand Point Park in Titusville, an event that prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to slap the city with $200,000 in fines.
The city says those penalties should be offset via improvements it’s made or planned for its sewage infrastructure. But then on Dec 16 , the city saw another 3,000 gallons of sewage spill from a broken pipe, continuing a long line of problems associated with aging infrastructure in the North Brevard community.
Some local environmentalists suspect the city’s sewage spills might be one contributing factor to this year’s record manatee deaths.
The $1.9 trillion ARPA was passed by congress this past year and signed by President Joe Biden with money being designated to make up for local government revenue shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In total, Titusville received $4.3 million from this round of ARPA funds. Between May and June of next year, they are expected to receive another $4.3 million, which can be disbursed to similar projects.
Of the total moneys received, Titusville allocated $2.39 million to water and sewer projects. Among the projects are:
- Replacing 50-year-old lift stations near Sand Point Park. Lift stations make sure sewage is properly pumped through the system and doesn’t become backed up. If they aren’t maintained or replaced, failure can result in major sewage spills. Those lift stations can become overtaxed or lose power during hurricanes, resulting in sewage entering the lagoon.
- Water chemical plant improvements, including chemical containment, feed pumps and control systems to ensure optimum pH levels in Titusville water.
- Backflow preventers to prevent city water from flowing the reverse direction through pipes.
- Stormwater improvement projects near South Street to filter out impurities of the runoff before it makes its way into the lagoon.
‘Save our Indian River Lagoon’
Lorilee Thompson, a local environmental activist and the owner of the Titusville seafood restaurant Dixie Crossroads, said infrastructure problems and their impact on the lagoon have been a “big black eye” for Titusville.
Thompson and other local lagoon advocates suspect the city’s sewage spill may have contributed to this year’s record manatee die off of more than 1,000 sea cows, by helping to fuel excess algae growth that blocked sunlight to seagrass — the manatee’s staple diet.
She’s glad to see some of those ARPA funds designated to renewing Titusville’s aging sewer and water infrastructure.
“Anything we can do to improve our infrastructure. All of that is wonderful. The projects that save our Indian River Lagoon,” Thompson said.
“Every one of those projects is necessary. We have to stop that nutrient load going into the lagoon,” she added. “I’m all for everything they can do. They have to address our old infrastructure too. So many of our pipes are failing and leaking. Every small thing we do is a big help.”
When sewage leaks into the Indian River Lagoon, the nitrates in the waste fuel dangerous algae blooms that block out sunlight and release toxins kill seagrass and harm other wildlife, creating a cascading effect that results in dead fish, manatees and dolphins.
Assistant City Manager Tom Abbate said the ARPA funds will help with the city’s aging infrastructure.
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“We always have shovel-ready projects ready to go,” Abbate said.
“It’s incredibly helpful. We have such a backlog of projects. We have an aging infrastructure, the city’s growing and we want to be able to keep up with the growth by renewing infrastructure that could potentially fail,” he added.
“We are going to sit down as a staff after the holidays and start strategizing and coming up with a potential spending plan that we present to Council. By the time the money arrives we should be ready to allocate it through Council just as we did with the first tranche of money. “
“We want to be able to replace aging infrastructure before there is a catastrophic failure,” he added.