Aloha fined, told to improve
By DAVID DeCAMP
Published February 3, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Aloha Utilities has agreed to pay the state $9,400 in penalties and costs for breakdowns in its sewage system.
Aloha, which serves more than 25,000 residents in southwest Pasco, was cited for 17 wastewater spills or overflows in 2006. The discharges occurred in its collection system and the Seven Springs Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Although repairs were made, breakdowns went unreported three times. The spills and overflows ranged from 20 to 3,600 gallons, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's consent order reached this week with the utility.
The order requires Aloha to create a plan to improve maintenance and limit overflows. An outreach program for customers to report problems must be added also.
While Aloha did not admit violations, the utility agreed to pay $8,400 in penalties and $1,000 for DEP's investigative costs.
"It appears Aloha is getting off with a pretty minimal fine, but they are improving," said Trinity resident Wayne Forehand, a customer who has repeatedly complained to get state action.
Pamala Vazquez, a DEP spokeswoman, said the agency has responded to all complaints about Aloha. The fine "is not arbitrary," she said, taking into account the seriousness of the violations and how a utility responds, she said. She promised Aloha will be watched closely.
Steve Watford, Aloha Utilities president, said the utility already does some outreach efforts, such as informing people through inserts in bills. The utility also tries to fix problems promptly. He said DEP's action was part of its recent emphasis on keeping utility systems working right.
"We believe we do a good job of it, but they want us, as part of their program, to do a better job of it," Watford said.
Despite years of customer complaints, Forehand and state Sen. Mike Fasano said service has improved since November.
They said overflows have stopped and Aloha repair trucks seemed to be in the neighborhoods more. Neither had seen a flashing warning light on a sewage lift station, signaling a problem.
The order came after the state issued a warning letter to Aloha in July over equipment disrepair and instances that sewage treatment failed to meet standards. DEP said Aloha had installed a four-inch hose line without permission and repeatedly failed to meet requirements to disinfect reuse water. Monitoring wells exceeded standards for bacteria, the agency said.
Aloha was not cited for those problems in this week's order, which said those problems were resolved.
"If you got caught doing something wrong and all you got was a slap on the wrist, you're going to agree to it," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey, an Aloha customer.
David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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