CLEARWATER — It has been six months since Hurricane Hermine blew through Tampa Bay, but city coffers are still feeling her wrath.
Flood water from the Category 1 storm overwhelmed the Marshall Street wastewater treatment plant the night of Sept. 1 and leaked into the dry pit that houses the pumps and electrical station, causing a mechanical failure.
Crews worked overnight to install a temporary pumping system and had all overflow contained within three days, but ultimately 29 million gallons of a rainwater and sewage mixture poured into Clearwater Harbor, with another 3 million gallons spilling into Old Tampa Bay.
The temporary pumping system has stayed in place ever since while utility department officials determined the exact cause of the failure and best replacement options. Payment of the first bill for equipment rental and electrical work, covering September through January, was approved by the City Council last week.
The damage? A whopping $1.3 million.
Public Utilities Director David Porter said he expects the city to incur about $175,000 more in rental charges per month until installation of a new system is completed by July.
"We're moving as quickly as we possibly can," Porter said. "What you don't want to do is rush to spend a considerable amount of money and not do the right thing in the end."
Porter said the repairs have been complicated by the age of the 1930s-era Marshall Street plant. The last major upgrades were made in the early 1990s.
The new modernized pumps and control system, which will cost $833,000, will be waterproof and able to function while submerged.
Porter said the strategy was to purchase a new system that could be installed in the existing plant but also be transferred to a replacement facility that is expected to be planned in the coming years.
"Over the next couple of years we intend to run the station with the new pumps and controls but the pumps and controls are able to be used in a new station if we decide to do that," Porter said. "We just want to get off this temporary equipment."
Because the temporary system was installed within days of the mechanical failure, residents and customers should have noticed no disruption in their service.
The Marshall Street plant pulls wastewater from the southwest quadrant of the city, serving about 10,000 customers and pumping an average of roughly 6 million gallons per day, Porter said.
About 80 percent of the water treated at the plant is routed into the city's reclaimed water system to be used for irrigation, while the rest is poured into Stevenson Creek.
The plant has the capacity to process up to 10 million gallons of water per day, but city officials estimate Hermine's heavy rains pushed at least triple that into the system, causing the leak — it could have been more, because the meters can't measure past 30 million gallons.
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.