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Fourth sewage gusher in Town 'N Country stumps water agency

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — When Rick Martinez saw the geyser of sewage rocketing into the sky Saturday morning, he was furious.

The sewage pipe on Comanche Avenue between Hanley Road and Sweetwater Creek has ruptured and been repaired three times in seven months, with the latest repair on Wednesday.

The fourth break, which began at 11:40 a.m. Saturday and was shut off at 1:40 p.m., made him want to scream.

"It's obvious that the pipe is defective," Martinez said. "I want to know why they keep putting it back into the ground — even though it breaks every time."

The answer, according to the county's Water Resource Services, is not so simple.

Testing has found no integrity problems with the 20-inch pipe or the engineering, said Michelle Van Dyke, a spokeswoman for the agency. She said the investigation will continue to try to find the reason behind the frequent ruptures.

In the meantime, the county will station an employee on the road 24 hours a day to improve the response time if there is another rupture.

And the third break on Wednesday accelerated county plans to build a bypass to the 755-foot section of pipe that will be replaced, she said.

Until the bypass is complete, the county will limit traffic and prohibit parking on that stretch of Comanche Avenue because a parked sport utility vehicle was damaged in Saturday's break.

In the first spill on Sept. 12, 200,000 gallons of sewage poured into a small retention pond and then overflowed into Sweetwater Creek.

Just one month later, 1.8 million gallons of sewage polluted the creek in an overnight break.

On Wednesday, Water Resource Services estimated that 460,000 gallons flowed before the lines were shut down. That spill flowed for two hours like the Saturday break, Van Dyke said.

The trouble began after Spectrum Underground installed the 2,600-foot section of thick-walled PVC pipe to replace older iron pipes in July. A second company, Secord Contracting, has been hired to install the replacement.

Sweetwater Creek is just 20 feet wide, 6 inches deep and flows into Old Tampa Bay.

Martinez estimates the first and second spills cost his Sweetwater Organic Community Farm nearly $80,000 by affecting his crop irrigation. His crops haven't been hurt since the county switched his irrigation to city water, but he's still unhappy about what the ruptures have done to his neighborhood.

"It's sad that we've gotten used to the smell (of sewage)," he said. "That's not something we should have to be accustomed to."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Fourth sewage gusher in Town 'N Country stumps water agency 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 11:04pm]
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