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Tarpon sewer lines that broke were not made for transporting sewage

Workers pump sewage out of a manhole and send it back to the sewage treatment plant through some long hoses running down Safford Ave.Tuesday afternoon 8/20/13.  - What the city of Tarpon Springs described to us yesterday as a little ol’ utility line break that required the closing of one lane of Live Oak Street was quite a bit more than that. Residents called today to tell us it was a major break in a sewage line that flooded their yards with sewage, caused it to bubble up inside their homes , filled a retention pond and has now made a big hole in the road. Residents’ homes and yards stink and the city is paying for them to get tetanus shots. A restaurant on the street was forced to close when sewage bubbled up in the toilets.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Workers pump sewage out of a manhole and send it back to the sewage treatment plant through some long hoses running down Safford Ave.Tuesday afternoon 8/20/13. - What the city of Tarpon Springs described to us yesterday as a little ol’ utility line break that required the closing of one lane of Live Oak Street was quite a bit more than that. Residents called today to tell us it was a major break in a sewage line that flooded their yards with sewage, caused it to bubble up inside their homes , filled a retention pond and has now made a big hole in the road. Residents’ homes and yards stink and the city is paying for them to get tetanus shots. A restaurant on the street was forced to close when sewage bubbled up in the toilets.

TARPON SPRINGS — Two sewer line breaks, one that sent sewage spewing down the street in central Tarpon Springs in August, will cost roughly $1.2 million and take at least until mid-January to repair, officials said.

The first break was at Live Oak Street and Safford Avenue in a pipe that was 2 feet in diameter and 1,250-foot-long and carried 2 million gallons of sewage per day. It corroded from the inside out.

Almost immediately, a second smaller pipe broke only 50 feet away, also from corrosion.

The reason: Those and other nearby pipes were made of a material usually used to transport water, not sewage.

"It's unfortunate, it's expensive, and we're going to do the best we can," Public Works director Tom Funcheon said at a recent City Commission meeting.

Several residents criticized the city for how it handled the aftermath of the break, which happened on a Saturday night and left toilet paper and excrement pooling on the street for two days.

The situation also raised questions about how Tarpon Springs monitors its pipes and whether sewage lines throughout the city might also have been constructed from ductile iron and be in danger of breaking.

Pipes are monitored through a rigorous video inspection program, but it's still difficult to tell the material from which those pipes were constructed, Funcheon said.

Many of Tarpon Springs' pipes are more than 60 years old and documentation is poor. The lines that broke are less than 30 years old and for that reason weren't a high priority for inspection, Funcheon said.

"For a sewer system, it's like having a car with 35,000 miles on it," Funcheon said. "You don't expect the engine to go."

In August, Funcheon said he expected repairs would take about two weeks. But the job is bigger than he could have possibly anticipated, he said.

"It's something I've run into before, but not quite at this scale," he said.

Repairs will be paid from the combined water and sewer fund, City Manager Mark LeCouris said, which has $6.2 million budgeted for fiscal year 2014.

Even so, the mishap may force the city to increase its utility rates or delay other planned projects.

"We hope we don't, but something with this magnitude is going to have an effect," he said. "We just know we've got to fix them and fix them the right way so nobody 30 years from now is going to have to deal with this thing."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or 727-445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

Tarpon sewer lines that broke were not made for transporting sewage 12/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 2:17pm]
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