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Run-down plant to be closed early

The county will spend $915,000 and shut down the aging Eagles wastewater treatment plant six years ahead of schedule.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


KEYSTONE -- Under state pressure to end ongoing violations, Hillsborough County has unveiled a plan that will shut down the aging Eagles wastewater treatment plant by 2003, six years ahead of schedule.

The county will spend $915,000 building a 9,300-foot sewer line on Nine Eagles Drive, said Jim Hunsberger, project manager with the county Water Department. The expenditure, approved by the County Commission on April 18, will coincide with installation of a reclaimed water line on Nine Eagles, he said.

The plant's regulator, the state Department of Environmental Protection, is working on a consent order that will impose construction deadlines on the county, said Joe Squitieri, compliance enforcement supervisor with the agency's Tampa district office.

"It's a bad plant," Squitieri said. "There are things they have to fix, or take it off line for us to be satisfied.

"There's probably going to be some sort of upfront penalty for the violations," he added.

The 300,000-gallon-per-day plant provides reclaimed water for the subdivision's golf course. It was not designed to meet current water treatment standards. Like many other older facilities, it was grandfathered after the state passed much tougher regulations in the late 1980s, Squitieri said.

Wear and tear, partly the result of poor maintenance, culminated in major setbacks in recent years, records show.

Last summer, an estimated 40,000 gallons of partly treated wastewater flowed out of its container, according to a DEP warning letter issued two months later. The cause was an unclean filter.

An investigation by DEP and the county Environmental Protection Commission uncovered other problems, including an emergency overflow leak that lasted on-and-off between Sept. 5 and Oct. 16 and discharges that violated clean water standards.

The problems scuttled the county's plan to keep the plant running until 2009, said Water Department engineer Jim Miller. Under a state law passed a year or two ago, those older plants were given 10 years to comply with new regulations.

The EPC also issued its own warning notice last summer, and commission spokeswoman Sara Fotopulos said her staff notified the state DEP.

As a result, the plant's longtime supervisor was convicted in U.S. District Court for violating the federal Clean Water Act. Tom Crowson installed a submersible pump in one tank and attached a hose to it, directing partly treated effluent into Double Branch Creek, which eventually leads into Old Tampa Bay, prosecutors said.

The current round of improvements should begin late this year, Hunsberger said. Because the county already had plans to install a $3-million reclaimed water line to the Eagles, planners have an opportunity to save money and build the sewer line at the same time.

Retrofitting the four pump stations should cost about $400,000, Miller said. Once they are readied, in early 2003, they will channel sewage to the county's wastewater plan off S. Mobley Road. "The plant has been operating well since the middle of September," Squitieri said. But, "the equipment is not that dependable."

Some of the bad performance could be attributed to Crowson's past neglect, he said.

Fotopulos, meanwhile, said the EPC expects to work with the state on the consent order.

"I think the proper thing is to get it (the plant) off-line," she said.

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