City of Sarasota to install permanent generators at five sewer lift stations as part of state consent order related to Hurricane Irma

Purchase of portable generators and improvement to Whitaker Bayou sewer line also part of agreement

Brookside Middle School is located on Shade Avenue. Image from Google Maps

The City of Sarasota will be installing permanent generators at five of its sewage lift stations and purchasing portable generators for use at others as needed, thanks to a unanimous City Commission vote this week.

The measures are necessary under the terms of a consent order city staff negotiated with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, former city Utilities Director Mitt Tidwell explained to the commission during its regular meeting on Feb. 20.

On Sept. 11, 2017, a city staff memo points out, the city “experienced sanitary sewer overflows” because of the loss of power at 21 lift stations “and excessive, unwanted rainwater entering into the wastewater collection system.” As required, the memo adds, the city reported those spills to FDEP.

Eleven incidents of overflows were associated with six of the lift stations, Tidwell told the board.

The consent order says that FDEP “finds that unknown amounts of untreated wastewater were discharged [into] Phillippi Creek, Whitaker Bayou, Sarasota Bay, and Hudson Bayou.”

“To address the issue,” Tidwell continued, the Utilities Department “has negotiated with [FDEP] to install permanent generators at four lift stations.”

Because of site constraints at the other two lift stations, Tidwell told the City Commission on Feb. 20, staff will purchase portable generators “that we can distribute where we need in the collection system.”

A graphic shows the locations where the other four permanent generators will be installed. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Although the city does have a supply of portable generators, he added, staff cannot always predict exactly where they will be needed in a storm event.

A fifth generator will be installed at Lift Station 84, which serves Brookside Middle School in Sarasota, under terms of the consent order.

The installation of the permanent equipment is expected to be completed by mid-July, according to a staff memo provided to the commission in advance of the Feb. 20 meeting.

Additionally, as part of the consent order, the city will finish a project, begun in October 2017, to line the sanitary sewer system in the Whitaker Bayou area to prevent stormwater intrusion. Completion of that is expected no later than September, the memo notes.

The total expense for the generators and the lining work is about $1.43 million, the memo says, with about $430,000 going toward the generators.

Payment and penalties

Todd Kerkering addresses the City Commission in September 2017. News Leader photo

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked about the potential of paying for the work with funds the county will receive from the federal government to mitigate situations in preparation for future storms.

Todd Kerkering, the city’s emergency management director, explained that the State of Florida was allocated $930 million for mitigation; Sarasota County will get about $8.9 million of that to be directed to projects in the municipalities, the Sarasota County School District and the unincorporated part of the county.

“Everyone will submit their projects,” he said. Then, a regular working group that deals with such issues will prioritize the requests for funding.

The primary concern, he stressed, is whether a local government or the School District has on hand the required 25% match for federal funding. If that money is not available, he told Freeland Eddie, then no application for assistance can be submitted to the group.

After Tropical Storm Debby inflicted damage on the area in June 2012, he explained, the county was approved for more than $400,000 in mitigation grants from the federal government. However, Kerkering said, only Sarasota Memorial Hospital had matching money for a project that it anticipated to cost $161,000.

He has asked the directors of all city departments to report to him by March 9, he said, about projects they would like to see funded for which the city would have the necessary matching money. Then, he continued the community group will meet on March 20 to review the countywide requests and vote on them.

Kerkering also explained that Sarasota County could end up with more than $8.9 million if other counties cannot use their entire mitigation allocations. Anything left over would return to the state pool for distribution to other communities, he said.

“It really, truly centers on do we have th 25% match,” he emphasized his earlier point.

When Freeland Eddie asked about the deadline for submission of grant applications to the state government, Kerkering told her the date is in early August. However, he also stressed that no applications can be forwarded to the Florida Department of Environmental Management without their having been approved by the county group.

Still, he said, he would know more details after the local group meeting on March 20.

When Freeland Eddie next sought clarification that the city would be eligible for federal funds to reimburse the city for emergency expenses associated with Irma, Kerkering explained that the reimbursement situation is different from the mitigation process.

A chart lists most of the requirements of the city under the consent order with FDEP. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The city will get reimbursements “two to three years from now,” he said, but the city probably will receive no more than 50% to 75% of what it paid as a result of Hurricane Irma’s strike.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch asked about the section of the FDEP consent order requiring all the city’s “corrective actions” to be completed by Dec. 31, noting that the state would penalize the city $100 per day for each day beyond that date while the city remained out of compliance.

Tidwell replied that staff members “fully feel” they will be able to meet the end-of-year deadline. In fact, he pointed out, staff negotiated the Dec. 31 date with FDEP because that timeline provided a cushion in the event the city had to contend with another hurricane as it was trying to meet all the stipulations of the consent order.

A purchase order already has been issued for the generators, he noted.

Then Ahearn-Koch referred to Item 9 in the consent order. That says, “Within 30 days of the effective date of this Order, Respondent [the city] shall pay the Department $2,000.00 in settlement of the regulatory matters addressed in this Order. This amount includes $1,500.00 for civil penalties and $500.00 for costs and expenses incurred by the Department during the investigation of this matter and the preparation and tracking of this Order. However, installation of a permanent generator at lift station 84 is considered a pre-approved in-kind project. … If installation of this generator is completed by December 31, 2018, then the Respondent is not required to pay the civil penalty portion of the settlement.”

That language, Tidwell explained, reflects the agreement that the city would purchase and install that generator in lieu of paying the civil penalty.

Lift Station 84 is at Brookside Middle School, which is a hurricane shelter, Tidwell added. No generator is on the school site, he said, which is why Brookside was chosen for that facet of the consent order.

Booker High School also is a shelter, Tidwell noted, but it is served by Lift Station 10, which has a generator.

“We negotiated the order as much as we could for our benefit,” Tidwell told the commissioners.

Ahearn-Koch ultimately made the motion to authorize execution of the consent order, and Vice Mayor Liz Alpert seconded it. With no further comments, the motion passed unanimously.