TOWN 'N COUNTRY — A sewer line that broke twice in the fall and spilled millions of gallons of raw sewage into Sweetwater Creek burst again Wednesday.
An undetermined amount of sewage gushed from the 20-inch pipe into a small retention pond, overflowing into the creek.
"It ran for a good hour or more at full throttle, however many gallons per minute that are going through that pipe," said Rick Martinez, founder of the nonprofit Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, which sits just across the creek from the break.
"That's everything that goes down everybody's toilets and sinks," he said. "It's pretty gross."
The break took place about 150 yards east of Hanley Road along Comanche Avenue, near the sites of the first two breaks.
The first, on Sept. 12, spilled 200,000 gallons into Sweetwater Creek, which flows into Old Tampa Bay near Rocky Point.
The second took place in the middle of the night on Oct. 12, spilled another 1.8 million gallons of sewage into the creek.
Fortunately, Wednesday's break happened during the day and was reported by the staff at the Concordia Lutheran School at 10:45 a.m.
Workers from Hillsborough County and Spectrum Underground, which installed the pipe last year, stopped the flow about 12:45 p.m.
This time, the farm was not irrigating its lettuce, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, greens, basil and radishes from a well that became contaminated by sewage by a previous spill. And county officials worked quickly to hook the farm onto city water Wednesday.
So, unlike in the fall, when the farm had to plow under $40,000 worth of crops, this harvest should not be ruined, Martinez said.
Neither county officials nor the superintendent for Spectrum Underground could say why the line keeps breaking.
"I've never seen a pipe do this before," said Ken Martin, the Sarasota company's superintendent on the job. "I've been doing underground work since '73."
Spectrum Underground installed a 2,600-foot-long section of the sewer line in the summer at a cost of $760,000. It is still under warranty, but Hillsborough officials had already decided to replace 755 feet of it after the Oct. 12 break, said Michelle Van Dyke, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Water Resources Services. "We didn't want to wait on the results of the forensic tests" on the line that broke in October, she said.
Preliminary test results show no material defect in the pipe, and an initial review found the project's engineering to be sound, she said.
What's more, the breaks occurred three different ways. One section of pipe split lengthwise. A second broke at a joint, with the crack running around the circumference of the pipe. And Wednesday's started with cracks that allowed large triangular shards to splinter off completely from the pipe.
But a replacement project takes time, Van Dyke said. The County Commission awarded the $300,000 project last week to a second company, Secord Contracting Corp. Work had been scheduled to start in a few weeks.
Now engineers are scrambling to figure out whether materials could be rushed so the job could start sooner, Van Dyke said. They also are considering whether to run a temporary bypass around the troubled pipe.
Meanwhile, Martinez has filed a claim with the county for the first two breaks. He estimates farm losses at $80,000. The settlement offer is "real low," he said.
And now this.
"It's always been kind of nice to be on a creek," he said. "But this year it hasn't been."