Wednesday, July 23, 2008

City faces $31,000 fine for defective pipeline

City faces $31,000 fine for defective pipeline

Publication Date: 07/22/08

The city could pay $31,000 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for allowing a pipeline behind its Waste Water Treatment Plant to leak into marshland.

John Regan, city chief operations officer, and other city staff met with the DEP Northeast District on Monday and said the department proposed fining the city $31,000.

But Jodi Conway, DEP spokeswoman, said the department has given "no finalized penalty amounts at this point."

"We haven't concluded looking over all the information on the enforcement side to determine the penalties," she said.

The 1,600-foot pipe, located in Lincolnville off Riberia Street, has been leaking into the marsh for years. The failing pipe was meant to dump treated water into the Intracoastal Waterway, but it instead leaked the fresh water into the saltwater marsh, where it sat stagnant.

That caused the area to become a vibrant green compared to the surrounding brown marsh, according to DEP.

Regan said the proposed DEP fine is for the city's actions from 2005 to 2007, when it failed to fix the pipe. Bob Leetch, former city public works director, reported to DEP in 2005 that the pipe was leaking. City Manager Bill Harriss said it was not fixed because it cost too much money.

Leetch also said DEP never followed up with the city, and the pipeline "fell off the radar." Leetch then left the city on his own accord in 2006.

Regan said of his meeting Monday, "(DEP) was very concerned about the time frame from 2005 to 2007."

"It was 2007 when the city picked up steam in addressing the problem," he said.

Leetch's proposal to Harriss to replace the pipe cost more than $3 million. In the last month, city staff has found another way to install a new pipeline for $1 million.

Leetch said there were rumors of problems with the pipeline in 2004, and the city repaired the pipe in 2003 and 2007. He said, once he got involved in 2005 and saw the pipe was leaking, he wrote a letter to DEP.

A DEP wetlands expert said last week that the marshlands surrounding the pipe are fairly healthy.

Regan said the city will likely come back to DEP with a counter offer to the proposed $31,000 fine.

"We have not agreed yet. We plan to have ongoing discussions (with DEP)," Regan said. "We are committed to working this out with the state."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

No comments: