Thursday, March 3, 2011

Did sewage spill cause beach closures?

This image taken from a video shows wastewater gushing out of a storm drain near Phillippi Creek on Feb. 20
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.
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SARASOTA COUNTY - A sewer system lift station near Phillippi Creek malfunctioned late last month and spilled 50,000 gallons of wastewater for at least several hours into a neighborhood on Linwood Drive. Residents of the area videotaped the spill on Sunday, Feb. 20.
A few days later, the Sarasota County Health Department did water testing at area beaches and found high bacteria levels. It then issued a beach advisory warning people to stay out of the water at Venice and Turtle beaches.
The advisories noted high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci, which come from human and animal waste and can cause illness and rashes.
When initially asked about the beach advisories, Sarasota County Health Department officials said there were no reports of sewage spills that could account for the contamination.
But before the first high readings, residents in The Springs neighborhood who live next to a lift station near Phillippi Creek say raw sewage started backing up in their streets with such force that the wastewater blew off manhole covers and spilled out.
“It was a smelly mess,” said Richard Bradford, who lives in the 2100 block of Linwood Drive and captured the sewage spill on video. Bradford's video, dated Feb. 20, shows brackish water spewing out multiple storm drains and flooding Linwood Drive. It also shows cascading water coming out of a pipe and into a creek that feeds into Phillippi Creek, and on to Sarasota Bay and the Gulf.
The Health Department did not acknowledge the spill until asked about it by a reporter. Officials say the spill occurred Feb. 21 and that they tested the water that day.
After that they sampled the water, found high bacteria levels, and then put out the beach advisories on Feb. 24. That statement is at odds with the residents, who say it began on Feb. 20 and went on for several hours both days.
“This spill as far as we know happened after” the beach samples came up high, said Chuck Henry, health department environmental manager.
Henry said he was told the spill lasted an hour.
Neighborhood yards have remnants of toilet paper and sanitary products and residents say they have not been told about what was in the water. They also say no one has cleaned up the mess.
“A guy was out here with a hose,” Bradford said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection website reported the spill on Linwood Drive by noting that representative with Sarasota utilities “advised that 50,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled from lift station due to unknown causes. Nearby storm drain that leads to Phillippi Creek was affected. Material was vacuumed up and lime was applied.”

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