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Broken pipes spill sewage into waterway

At least 200,000 gallons of sewage poured into the Intracoastal Waterway near the Indian Rocks Causeway after two sewer pipes burst Monday and early Tuesday, county officials said.

Repairs were made by Tuesday afternoon, but not before enough sewage got into the water to cause the county to post signs warning people not to swim or wade in a section of the Intracoastal. Officials also asked residents served by the lines to cut back on water usage during the repairs.

Pinellas County officials expect water test results today to determine if the affected portions of the Intracoastal Waterway are safe.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the spill, officials said.

The spill began around 4 p.m. Monday, when a Clearwater contracting company, Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. began to demolish McKay Wastewater Treatment Plant on 118th Avenue N, just west of the Walsingham Road and Hamlin Boulevard intersection in Largo.

According to a Pinellas public utilities manager Steve Soltau, Glasbrenner was told by county officials the sewer lines were not in use.

But workers found out they were.

A 16-inch pipe broke and, according to Soltau's estimate, "several hundred thousand gallons" spilled into the waterway near the causeway.

A six-member county crew responded, and by 8 p.m., workers created an earthen channel to divert the sewage flow into a nearby manhole. By 1:30 a.m., a work crew stopped the leak and replaced the failed section, which was about 5 feet long.

But just as the crew was finishing up, another 12-inch sewer pipe broke about 100 yards away. This break was likely caused by the stress of repairing the first break, officials said.

"Once we got the 16-inch repaired, we turned around and the 12-inch broke. That was at 2 o'clock this morning," Soltau said Tuesday afternoon. By this time a different repair crew had taken over.

Work crews had the new sewage flow diverted into a manhole in less than a hour and the pipe was repaired Tuesday afternoon. "Several thousand (gallons) leaked in the environment," from the second pipe, Soltau said.

For most of the day Tuesday, officials asked residents in Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Beach to refrain from nonessential water use, such as unnecessary toilet flushing, dish washing and clothes washing. By evening, that request was lifted.

Soltau said tidal action removed the sewage from the waterway.

"It's pretty much diluted and dispersed," he said.

Still, four signs remained Tuesday afternoon, cautioning residents to not wade, fish or swim in the water along the causeway until further notice.

The Intracoastal Waterway will be sampled twice for bacteria. Results from the first test are expected by today at 10 a.m. and from the second test Thursday.

Notices of the spill were to be delivered Tuesday to nearby Shipwatch and Indian Springs condominiums and to nearby marinas.

The spill was in a remote area, Soltau said, and no one complained about the sewage or the odor.

"It smelled like sewage," Soltau said. "Gladly, we didn't get any calls."

_ Angie Green can be reached at 445-4224 or agreensptimes.com.

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