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Sewage spill dumps 500,000 gallons into pond

There is no public safety threat after the spill of 500,000 gallons, say officials on the scene.

Just two weeks after a county sewer line blew and poured thousands of gallons of untreated sewage into New Port Richey's Cross Bayou, sewer failure struck again.

This time, 500,000 gallons of sewage spilled into a Saddlebrook Corporate Center retention pond before county officials could stem the flow. The July 25 spill so contaminated the pond that county officials were forced to pump its water back into the wastewater treatment system.

"It's just one of those unexplained spills," said Bruce Kennedy, county director of utilities construction. The utilities department still is investigating the cause of the half-million-gallon spill, he said.

"There's miles and miles of these lines, and sometimes they break," Kennedy said Wednesday.

Although few homes are in the area, Kennedy said, the county cordoned off the spill site and kept an employee there until the muck could be siphoned away.

Sheriff's deputies were called out to the pond after the pumping dropped the pond's water level and revealed a truck. But they refused to go in the water to determine the truck's license plate.

"At this time, the lake water is considered hazardous because of the extreme amount of untreated sewage still in the water," sheriff's officials wrote in their report.

Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll confirmed that the county's dive team couldn't go in the pond "because it's so contaminated."

But Chief Assistant County Administrator Bill Munz downplayed the spill, saying that, as spills go, this one was not as bad as recent spills in Pinellas County. In one case, 69-million gallons of highly treated wastewater leaked from a St. Petersburg water treatment facility into Tampa Bay; in another case that city spilled one-million gallons of untreated sewage into the bay.

"Half-a-million (gallons) is a pretty good containment," Munz said.

Munz said that in the Saddlebrook incident, there was no public health threat in the area and that the sewage was pumped back into the wastewater treatment system before it could percolate into the underground drinking water supply.

County officials notified the state departments of health and environmental protection about the spill, Munz said. Had there been any public health threat, public notification likely would have been coordinated by those agencies, he added.

Harry Rice, who manages the Saddlebrook Corporate Center, agreed with Munz that the spill posed no threat.

"It's really not a problem. They cleaned it up right away."

_ Times staff writer Cary Davis contributed to this report.

_ Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulfertssptimes.com.

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