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Water's fine after sewage spill, county says

The state DEP will hear how and why the Largo accident happened. Meanwhile, don't inhale too deeply.

By ANGIE GREEN
Published July 10, 2003

LARGO - Two days after at least 150,000 gallons of sewage poured into the Intracoastal Waterway near Indian Rocks Bridge, county test results showed that the water is safe.

Signs warning people to avoid the water were being taken down, officials said, but the matter was hardly forgotten. A nauseating odor loomed over the area of the spill Wednesday.

Residents of upscale Shipwatch condominiums say they're used to that. The plant sits just feet away from the complex and has produced a foul smell for years, they say.

"You can wake up and be ill if you leave your door open," resident Mickey Hampson said. "For years it's been bad. . . . It's enough to knock you out."

County officials say residents' concerns are one reason the nearby McKay Wastewater Treatment Plant is being demolished. It was that demolition - and some official misinformation - that led to the spill, officials say.

"(The county is) trying to get plants out of neighborhoods, and get them into what's called regional plants," said Steve Soltau, south district manager for Pinellas County Utilities.

The county has regional plants in St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor.

The plant that had the spill this week is the last "neighborhood plant," Soltau said. Over the past 20 years, the county has shut down more than a dozen small neighborhood plants.

Developments around the old plant in Largo have slowly boxed it in, said Michele Duggan, environmental specialist for the Department of Environmental Protection for Pinellas.

"Twenty years ago, no one was out there," Duggan said.

Some residents at Shipwatch condos said the spill didn't affect them much. They're used to the odor. And this wasn't the first sewage spill.

"We had one three months or so ago. The sewage line flooded by the tennis courts," resident Bill Nelligar said.

Others say this week took the prize. "It used to smell a lot, but yesterday it was really bad," said Barry Reitz, a courtesy officer for Shipwatch.

"It smelled like dead animals."

Duggan said Wednesday she was unsure whether the state agency would investigate the accident.

Pinellas County must submit a written report to the DEP within five days.

"I'm very concerned, but how far we will go with it, I'm not sure," Duggan said. "We will make a determination on the report whether further action is warranted."

County officials came up with an official estimate Wednesday that 150,000 to 200,000 gallons of sewage poured into the Intracoastal Waterway late Monday and early Tuesday from burst pipes at the plant on 118th Avenue N in Largo.

The pipes burst as a contractor tore down the plant.

Sonny Glasbrenner, a contractor on the demolition, said that he had been told that all sewer lines had been turned off. He found out differently when a 16-inch line was hit with a 5,300-pound headache ball.

"At a prebidding meeting they said they had everything disconnected this spring," Glasbrenner said.

"They (the county) knew we were tearing building lines. They were cutting other lines, so why wouldn't they cut that one? It doesn't make sense."

Soltau said the county is investigating.

"We are trying to get to the bottom of . . . who passed what information and why did this result," Soltau said.

The problem with the first line breaking was compounded when a 12-inch line burst as the first was repaired.

- Angie Green can be reached at 445-4224 or agreen@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 10, 2003, 01:48:31]


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