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Beaches reopen after sewage spill

Beaches on Key Biscayne and Virginia Key reopened Sunday afternoon, three days after a broken pipeline spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage forced their closure.

Officials reopened Crandon Park and Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne, among other beaches, after they received encouraging test results Sunday.

"It's safe once again to swim in the bay and go to the beaches," said Sean McCrackine, spokesman for the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management.

The Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department began removing the warning signs posted along the beaches Sunday afternoon.

The test results showed elevated bacteria levels in two spots _ at the mouth of the Miami River in Key Biscayne and just north of there _ but the sewage spill was not the cause. Storm runoff from the rain this weekend was responsible for the contamination, McCrackine said.

A pipe ruptured by a tugboat Thursday spewed a brown fountain of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay, spilling more than 11 millions of gallons of untreated waste. The 72-inch pipe carried sewage and storm runoff from central Miami-Dade County to the county's Central District Waste Water Treatment Plant. The flow was diverted to another line.

The Water and Sewer Department is preparing to repair the pipe, spokesman Frank Calderon said. It has contacted a contractor and ordered necessary materials. Work will not begin until the Florida Department for Environmental Protection finishes an environmental impact report.

Precautions must be taken so that repairs do not severely disrupt sea grasses in the natural habitat, said Alyce Robertson, assistant director of the environmental resources management department.