Contractor responsible for one incident, while county staff caused the second one
Since early May, residents who live along parts of Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard on north Siesta Key have had to contend with a drainage improvement project that has resulted in traffic delays — including long backups of vehicles at times — along with the need for pedestrians and bicyclists to circumnavigate sections of streets where contractors were working.
Then came a Sarasota County Emergency Management warning on Sept. 28 that staff’s concerns about where Hurricane Ian would strike had resulted in the decision to shut off water and sewer service for both Siesta and Casey keys. Evacuation was strongly recommended.
The City of Sarasota also shut off water to its barrier island customers. The northernmost part of Siesta Key is within the city’s jurisdiction.
Although residents were able to get back onto Siesta Key the day after Ian hit Lee County, many had to wait days for their water and sewer service to resume, as well as for their power to be turned back on, with linemen working around the county.
However, for one particular group of residents — and the Out-of-Door Academy’s Lower School, located at 444 Reid St., adjacent to a part of Higel Avenue — the difficulties have multiplied over the past week: Two water main breaks have occurred, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Late in the afternoon of Oct. 12, a resident of Higel Avenue who lives near the school reported that she found her water was off.
She checked the county’s website — www.scgov.net — but found no notice, she said, that the service had been disrupted for a specific reason.
A little later, the resident — who did not wish to be identified — discovered that a notice had been left at her door, telling her she needed to boil the water before using it. The resident’s response, as conveyed to the News Leader, was something to the effect of “How do you boil water when you have no water?!”
Prior to those circumstances, the same resident said she finally had just started feeling some sense of normalcy again. She and her family also had been without Comcast service, including access to the internet, from Sept. 28 until Oct. 12.
After learning of the water situation just before 10 a.m. on Oct. 13, the News Leadercontacted county staff. Public Utilities Director Mike Mylett replied, via county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant, that crews were working on an active water main break in the area where the aforementioned woman lives.
Mylett’s initial response was that he could not offer a timeline for the resolution of the problem.
Then, at approximately 11:15 a.m., Grant told the News Leader that Mylett had informed her that the water service had been restored “and the lines have been flushed.”
Trenchlesspedia.com explains that a water main “is a primary underground pipe in a municipal water distribution system. It is a major artery that supplies water to smaller pipes on the way to hoes and businesses. … The pipes transport a high volume of water under pressure to neighborhoods …”
On the morning of Oct. 17, the News Leader asked county staff whether Gator Grading & Paving LLC of Palmetto, the contractor for the Higel Avenue-Ocean Boulevard drainage improvement project, was responsible for the water main break.
On Oct. 18, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester responded with information once again from the Public Utilities Department: “This area has had a few planned shutdowns but most recently the contractor performing the [drainage project] accidentally hit the 8” watermain on 10/12/22 and that impacted 41 address points, including Out of Door Academy.”
Winchester attached a map showing the affected addresses.
The Public Utilities staff added, “Just this morning, County Stormwater crews hit the same watermain around [8 a.m.] and the water has just been restored.” That email came in at 5:07 p.m. on Oct. 18.
“The same 41 address points were impacted and will be on a precautionary boil water notice,” the Public Utilities staff noted.
On Oct. 19, in response to questions the News Leader posed about the effects of the water main breaks on the Out-of-Door Academy, Kim Metrokotsas, director of communications for the school, replied in an email, “We are working around these unexpected challenges. We do not wish to make a public comment about the situation at this time.”
In late June, Gator Grading and Paving employees also damaged a 6-inch sewer force main, which resulted in the spill of approximately 2,000 gallons of sewage, as the Public Utilities Department reported at that time to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
Crew members were installing a new stormwater pipe in front of the house at 4566 Higel Ave. when that incident occurred, the FDEP report said. County staff used a vacuum truck to recover approximately 1,700 gallons of the effluent from the site, the report noted.
In August, county staff reported that the Higel Avenue-Ocean Boulevard drainage project should be completed in late September. However, Hurricane Ian stalled the final stages of the work.
In its Construction-One Week Look Ahead report for the period of Oct. 17 through Oct. 23, the county’s Capital Projects Department wrote that the final paving of Higel Avenue, where work had been taking place, would start on Oct. 18. Daily road closures would be needed until Oct. 20, the report added.
Yet, the News Leader heard from another north Siesta resident on Oct. 20 who said that no one with Gator Grading & Paving was in sight when that resident went out early that day or the previous morning.
The resident added that paving equipment that had been staged on Reid Street, in the project area, was gone on Oct. 20. Yet, the road clearly had not been resurfaced, the resident pointed out.
Further, the resident noted, a big hole remained in the ground near the intersection of Higel Avenue and Mangrove Point Road.