Tuesday, May 10, 2016

First Amendment violations on sewage spill, special events

Two items were taken off the public comment agenda at the May 9, 2016 St. Augustine City Commission meeting, chaired by Vice Mayor ROXANNE HORVATH (who is facing opposition for re-election).

Not a word in the shallow St. Augustine Record about denying citizens the right to speak on environmental crimes -- an FDEP Consent Order on eighteen (18) sewage spills and approval of sixteen (16) special event venues' vested rights. This violates our rights to public comment under Florida and federal law.


St. Augustine commissioners give nod to sewer spill agreement
Posted: May 9, 2016 - 11:02pm | Updated: May 10, 2016 - 9:34am

St. Augustine commissioners approved allowing the city manager to sign a consent order that requires corrective actions by the city following sewer spills or overflows from July 2015 to February.

The agreement between the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is meant to address the spills and help prevent them from happening in the future. The order lists 18 spills or overflows in that time frame.

Commissioners on Monday approved 4-0 to allow City Manager John Regan to sign the FDEP consent order. Mayor Nancy Shaver was not at the meeting.

Some spills were caused by heavy rains in September, according to the consent order.

“A majority of those sewer spills were related to infiltration of our gravity system and power failures due to excessive run times of pumps,” said Todd Grant, deputy director of public works.

The consent order requires the city to submit a Capacity Management Operations and Maintenance assessment report to the FDEP. Also, the city has to pay fines and fees of $5,500 or do an in-kind project in lieu of paying fines.

Martha Graham, public works director, said previously that the city plans to use consultant Applied Technology & Management to help complete the consent order work. The same consultant was used for the 2015 baseline assessment of the city’s infrastructure.

With consultant costs and other fees, the consent order work could cost the city more than $30,000, according to a city memo.

The city has already begun improving its infrastructure in response to the spills, and the city has budgeted more than $990,000 for the current fiscal year for sewer infrastructure upgrades.

Grant said the FDEP noticed the city’s work to correct the issues. He also said the FDEP could have fined the city for each spill, but instead calculated the fine for the spills as a whole.


■ Commissioners approved a resolution allowing Regan to sign lease agreements for satellite parking for July Fourth, at up to $10,000 per agreement. City officials have said the move is about more than addressing traffic for Independence Day — they see satellite parking as part of the city’s future in dealing with congestion.

The July Fourth plan calls for at least three lots and the addition of more than 600 parking spaces. Two lots the city wants are off North Ponce de Leon Boulevard and San Marco Avenue. The other spaces are at the St. Johns County governmental offices off U.S. 1 North. The city is also working on getting shuttle service for the lots.

■ Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline asked what could be done to prevent confusion in the future over county boil water notices. The county issued a boil water notice Friday evening — which the county has since retracted — after “a raw production well” of St. Johns County’s utility tested positive for E. coli contamination. However, an update clarified that the boil water notice did not include St. Augustine’s utility system.

Sikes-Kline said there was “much confusion” on the issue.

Graham said that the county apparently used Code Red calls when issuing their notice, which mistakenly went to some city utility customers advising them they were under a boil water notice. Graham said it is her understanding the county sent out a follow up notice to clarify.

The city took its own action to clear up confusion.

■ Commissioners approved a series of businesses for vested rights as special events venues, meaning they have proven they were already operating special events like weddings at their businesses before the city approved its new events ordinance. The vesting also means the businesses can continue to operate as they have been without having to comply with the new ordinance.

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