Work expected to be completed in July 2020
In late August, Mike Mylett, then-interim director of Sarasota County’s Public Utilities Department, estimated the cost to upgrade the county’s Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) to advanced wastewater treatment status would be approximately $158 million.
That figure was close to 60% higher than the upper end of the projections Mylett had offered in June during the County Commission’s budget workshops: $100 million.
The difference, Mylett explained on Aug. 21, was that staff had come up with the June figure by researching similar upgrades in the state. Subsequently, he continued, staff had hired a consultant to go out to the Bee Ridge facility and work up estimates based on the plant’s actual operations.
The commissioners offered full support for the $157,644,000 figure he provided them in August for a more sophisticated type of upgrade that, he indicated, would result in a smaller footprint and less sludge production. He also pointed out that the estimate incorporated “lots of contingencies that you would anticipate as part of any construction project.”
The initiative would be designed to significantly reduce the nitrogen load in the reclaimed water produced by the facility, Mylett explained. Instead of 10 to 15 mg per liter, the figure would fall to “3 or less,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out, noting the latter figure is the standard for drinking water.
Nitrogen has been recognized as the primary food for the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, Mote Marine Laboratory researchers and others have made clear.
This week, thanks to a County Commission vote, work will begin on the design of the Bee Ridge project.
On Dec. 10, as part of its Consent Agenda of routine business items, the board approved an award of $1,959,011 to Carollo Engineers of Sarasota.
Although 112 companies viewed the solicitation for bids that the county advertised on July 30, only three submitted proposals, a Dec. 10 memo from Mylett and Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Division for the county, explained in the backup agenda material for the meeting.
The other two companies were Atkins North America and Stantec Consulting Services, both of which also have offices in Sarasota, county Procurement Department documents show.
A three-member evaluation committee, comprising representatives from Capital Projects and Public Utilities, “reviewed the proposals based on demonstrated ability of the proposed personnel, past performance and experience of the firm, project approach, office location, local knowledge, and certified minority business enterprise status,” the memo explained.
On Sept. 30, the memo continued, the county’s Procurement Official recommended awarding the bid to Carollo.
If the board approved the award, the memo explained, Carollo would develop and produce a preliminary design report (PDR), “that will assist the County in selecting the most beneficial treatment process to be used for the upgrade and expansion [of the Bee Ridge facility].”
That work would begin in December, the memo continued, “with completion anticipated in July 2020.
Underscoring the reasons for the plan
On Aug. 27, the County Commission approved a Consent Order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), committing to have the Bee Ridge plant upgraded by the end of December 2025. The commission later approved a settlement agreement with three nonprofit environmental organizations that had sued the county in federal court over illegal discharges of “raw sewage, partially treated sewage and/or treated reclaimed water into Phillippi Creek, Cowpen Slough, Whitaker Bayou, and streams and other waters that are tributaries to Sarasota Bay, Roberts Bay, Dona/Roberts Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in or adjoining Sarasota County.”
Almost 1 billion gallons of those discharges were from the Bee Ridge WRF, the plaintiffs said, using FDEP reports to make their case.
As recently as Dec. 6, county staff submitted a required report to FDEP regarding a spill associated with the Bee Ridge WRF. The incident began at 6:10 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m. at 2400 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota, the report added.
“Initial investigation revealed a broken 12-inch force main,” the report said. “Crews were able to isolate the lift stations and repair the force main. Approximately 22,500 gallons of sewage spilled onto the ground and into a swale. Crews were able to recover 18,500 gallons of sewage from the spill. The spill did reach a nearby drainage ditch. Sampling, clean up and notifications are proceeding per protocol. Staff is working on a root cause analysis to identify the cause of the pipe failure,” the narrative concluded.
The scope of services attached to the agreement with Carollo explains that the Bee Ridge WRF is located on 143 acres at 5550 Lorraine Road in Sarasota. The advanced wastewater treatment project will expand the facility’s capacity from 12 million gallons per day (mgd) to 18 mgd, the exhibit noted.
One other point in the staff memo regarded community outreach: “Coordination is underway with Public Utilities, Communications and Capital Projects to develop a website which will identify and track the progress” of all the improvements listed in the FDEP Consent Order, “for transparency purposes.”
In addition, the memo said, monthly reports will be included on the Projects in my Neighborhood webpages on the county website. Furthermore, the memo continued, monthly reports will be provided to County Administration and to the County Commission.