Atkins North America wins $274,450 county contract marking first major step in conversion of two more wastewater treatment plants to Advanced Wastewater Treatment status

Venice Gardens and Central County facilities the focus of project

An aerial map shows the location of the Venice Gardens Water Reclamation Facility. Image from Google Maps

This week, in approving their Jan. 12 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the Sarasota County commissioners took the first formal step toward converting the Central County and Venice Gardens Water Reclamation facilities (WRF) to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) status.

The vote was unanimous, though Commissioner Nancy Detert was absent because of ill health.

The board members approved a $274,450 contract with Atkins North America Inc. for an evaluation of how best to achieve the transition of those plants. The primary goal for the AWT conversion will be to reduce the levels of nitrogen and other chemicals produced by the facilities, which end up in area waterways. Nitrogen, especially, has been identified by researchers as a major source of food for the algae that causes red tide blooms.

Formally, the Atkins contract approved this week describes the new project as a step toward facility upgrades necessary to meet AWT standards “established by the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) to protect water quality and promote environmental benefits. The AWT guidelines establish stringent biological and nutrient limits for effluent discharged from the facilities,” the contract’s Scope of Services adds.

A staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the Jan. 12 meeting notes, “The Central County Utilities WRF (CCU) and the Venice Gardens WRF are two of the three regional wastewater treatment facilities operated by the [county’s] Public Utilities Department.” The CCU has a permit that allows it to treat up to 8 million gallons of wastewater per day, while the Venice Gardens facility can treat only 3 million gallons per day, the memo adds.

The Venice Gardens conversion must be completed by the end of 2025, according to the Scope of Services in the Atkins contract.

This is the location of the Central County WRF. Image from Google Maps

The Venice Gardens WRF is located at 375 Venice East Blvd. in Venice, while the Central County facility stands at 7905 McIntosh Road, near Palmer Ranch neighborhoods.

Atkins North America — which has offices in Tampa and Sarasota — was chosen from among firms with which county staff has ongoing agreements for consulting services, the memo explains. The company not only will conduct evaluations in regard to the conversion process for the CCU and Venice Gardens WRFs, the memo says, but it also will undertake an examination of how to improve the systems “to transfer flow treated at the City of Venice WRF to be treated at a County facility. The evaluation includes an overview of treatment technologies, construction and operational cost implications,” and the potential impacts the conversions would have on the facilities’ operations, the memo points out.

The evaluations are to be completed by May 31, the memo says.

The County Commission already has approved initiatives that will lead to the conversion of its largest Water Reclamation Facility — the Bee Ridge plant on Lorraine Road — to AWT status. That process must be completed by the end of 2025, as well, in accord with a Consent Order the commissioners approved with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in late August 2019. The settlement covered spills that occurred between May 19, 2018 and July 24, 2019.

FDEP had documented illegal discharges of millions of gallons of effluent from the county’s wastewater treatment facilities, though the Bee Ridge WRF was the focus of most of the problems.

The Consent Order pointed out that the county had reported 27 spills of treated and untreated wastewater associated with the Central County WRF; for the Venice Gardens facility, the document noted 21 spills of untreated wastewater.

The largest spill from Venice Gardens involved 448,800 gallons of raw wastewater, the Consent Order said. That incident was documented on July 24, 2019 at the intersection of Border Road and Jacaranda Boulevard.

This is just one page of the illegal discharges documented in the 2019 FDEP Consent Order. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Earlier, in September 2018, a discharge of 27,500 gallons of raw wastewater was reported on the south side of the intersection of Oxford Road and Tuxedo Road, the Consent Order noted.

In late December 2018, a spill of 100,000 gallons of treated wastewater was documented at the Central County facility, the Consent Order showed. However, that was eclipsed by a spill of 864,000 gallons of raw wastewater and partially treated wastewater at the plant on Sept. 3, 2018.

As part of Atkins’ undertaking, the contract calls for the firm to review “influent and effluent flow data for the prior 5 years,” and to review “space and operational restrictions affecting future improvements at both [WRF] sites.”

The biggest expenses in the Atkins contract are for the services of a project engineer, with a total fee of $83,640; and a subconsultant ($82,850), a chart in the contract notes.