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Longboat Key moved to address aging pipe a month before spill

Ahead of a sewage spill that dumped millions of gallons into Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key had a plan to add a new pipeline

LONGBOAT KEY — Longboat Key town leaders already were working toward addressing their aging and only sewage pipeline off the barrier island when a sudden rupture this week spilled millions of gallons of wastewater into Sarasota Bay, adding new urgency to those efforts.

Barely a month before Longboat’s utility staff reported the spill of an estimated 25.8 million gallons of raw sewage to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, town commissioners agreed to begin the permitting process and identify funds to pay for a backup pipe that would run alongside or near the existing line that runs under Sarasota Bay from the key to the Manatee County mainland.

The multimillion-dollar pipeline project would act as an alternative to pump wastewater off the island if a major catastrophe occurred.

“Failure of the existing force main would result in substantial environmental, financial and public perception impacts,” a presentation on June 1 warned, foreshadowing what was first discovered by Longboat utilities staff after it cleared a path of mangroves on Longbar Pointe 28 days later.

Moving ahead with the plan, the preliminary design plans and permit application for the redundant pipe were due sometime this month, and a public workshop was slated for this fall or early 2021.

Longboat’s central sewer pipe carries about 2 million gallons of sewage to the mainland daily to the Manatee County wastewater treatment facility. The break occurred in a section of pipe on undeveloped mangrove-lined land at Long Bar Pointe on the mainland.

Signs that there might be a problem surfaced on June 17, 12 days before the rupture was discovered and subsequently reported to the state.