Friday, September 26, 2008
CITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE FINED $31,000 FOR SEWAGE EFFLUENT POLLUTION OF MARSH, CITY, STATE LAPDOGS CLAIM NO ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE -- DO YOU BELIEVE THEM?
DEP: Pipe hasn't damaged marsh -- city being fined $31,000 for sewage plant pollution
By KATI BEXLEY
Publication Date: 09/26/08
The Department of Environmental Protection is fining the city for violating its permit and for allowing a pipeline to leak treated waste water into marshland.
Despite that, state biologists say the leaky pipe didn't cause environmental damage.
The city and the site DEP have reached an agreement that the City Commission will now need to approve. The department is fining the city $31,000 for breaking its permit and for letting the pipeline behind its Waste Water Treatment Plant leak into the marsh for a couple years. The agreement does not mention any effect on the environment.
Jim Maher, DEP wetlands specialist and Environmental Resource Permitting administrator, said the pipeline's treated fresh water did not harm the salt water marsh.
"The bottom line on this is we've got a healthy marsh, period," he said.
John Regan, city chief operations officer, said city staff acknowledges the water did impact the marsh, causing the marshland surrounding the pipeline to be a vibrant green.
"It wasn't an adverse impact, but we did impact the marsh," Regan said. "We are working as fast as we can to put in a new pipeline."
But Maher, who surveyed the site with two other department biologists, said he didn't see any discoloration. He said he believes it's a different plant species near the pipeline and that's why the marsh looks different.
The 1,600-foot pipe, located in Lincolnville off Riberia Street, was meant to dump treated fresh water into the Intracoastal Waterway. It has instead leaked fresh water into the salt water marsh, where it would sit stagnant.
The pipe has been leaking for a couple years. The city has done several repairs on it, but the city manager did not replace it in 2005 because the estimated cost -- roughly $3 million -- was too high.
In lieu of paying the fine, Regan said city staff will do an in-kind project that would block restaurants' and businesses' grease from going into the sewer system. Regan said the city spends money each year fixing line breaks and sewer problems because grease clogs pipelines. The city also would hire someone to ensure restaurants pump out their grease trap systems regularly.
The city's agreement with the state DEP, known as a consent agenda, also mandates that the pipeline be replaced. The city has already been working on that since July. Regan said the project will be completed by January 2009, and the city needs an Army Corps of Engineers permit to begin construction. This week the City Commission agreed to spend more than $600,000 to have S.E. Cline Construction, Inc., in Palm Coast replace the pipe.
Because the pipeline has been a controversial issue, especially for the neighborhood adjacent to the pipeline, Regan will hold a meeting to update the public on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
"We are waiting to have (the agreement) approved," he said. "In the meantime, we're going to continue working to build this pipeline because it's the right thing to do."
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