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County escapes any state fine for May sewage spill

But neighbors maintain the spill alarm system still is in need of some upgrading.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published July 7, 2006


LAND O'LAKES - Pasco County will not be fined for a 3,000-gallon sewage spill at Carson Drive, officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday.

A day after the May 21 spill in Land O'Lakes, state regulators had warned that the county could face a fine.

But by Wednesday, the department had wrapped up its evaluation, concluding that Pasco officials took the right steps to clean up the mess, said Pamala Vazquez, the department's spokeswoman.

"We considered the size of the spill and the cleanup process they took after the spill," she said. "No spill is a good spill. But the size of it made a difference, and they followed their standard operating procedures, and they did it in a responsible manner."

The spill apparently resulted from a trip in the Carson Drive lift station's main circuit breaker, which knocked out the spill alarm system.

For nearly two hours, untreated sewage ran through the ditch eastward and flooded a field west of the Countryside Montessori preschool. The area is home to seven lakes that ultimately feed Hillsborough County's drinking water supply.

But the department said the spill "had no measurable impact on surface water."

"We made sure Pasco did a thorough job," Vazquez said. "They reported it to us in an appropriate time, and made sure they cleaned up and disinfected the spill."

County officials said they spread lime as part of standard practice to treat contaminated soil.

But neighbors who had alerted county officials to the spill were not impressed with the department's decision.

"I'd like to trust (the department) and I'd like to think they know what they're talking about," Lynne Picou said. "They say they treated it with lime. But what happens when the lime gets into the waterway?"

Residents say the lift station chronically fails.

"I would have expected that there would have been some kind of ramifications (from the spill)," said Edward Krufka, a resident. "Just because it's a small spill doesn't mean there's no blame. ... I respect what the DEP came up with, but these are things that could be catastrophic, so I hope Pasco takes the right steps to (strengthen) the infrastructure."

A toll-free distress call number is tacked up outside the station, but calls are routed to 911 dispatch offices. Utilities director, Bruce Kennedy, said his department keeps no records of complaints to that number.

Kennedy, who was on vacation Thursday, said in May that the department wants to install a customer information system that creates service requests with each call. He also promised a backup generator and automatic dialer to alert authorities of spills.

Robert Sigmond, Pasco's acting utilities director in Kennedy's absence, said he was not familiar enough with the issue to comment, but welcomed the DEP decision as "positive news."

Neighbors say the spill issue is likely to be revived when a proposed Carson Drive development goes before Pasco's Development Review Committee.

The developer Mobley Homes has a 60-unit condominium proposal across from the station, which neighbors oppose.

"As the Carson Group, we are all in touch through e-mail, so at least we're all aware of what's going on," Picou said.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.