No new sewage line for Harbour Island as Tampa decides to build underwater instead

Harbour Island was a garbage dump when a main sewage line was installed there. Now it's a gated residential enclave where residents have won their battle to keep a replacement away from them. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
Harbour Island was a garbage dump when a main sewage line was installed there. Now it's a gated residential enclave where residents have won their battle to keep a replacement away from them. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]
Published Sept. 13, 2018

TAMPA — The gated residential enclave of Harbour Island is breathing a sigh of relief now that it has dodged the short-term headache of disruptive traffic snarls and the long-term prospect of a new underground sewage line running the length of the island.

The city has decided to replace a decaying sewage line on Harbour Island with a new line that skirts the island. The massive line, carrying 15 million gallons of raw sewage a day, will run instead beneath either Sparkman Channel or Ybor Channel on its way to the city's Howard F. Curren sewage plant at Hookers Point.

City officials have narrowed their choices to three underwater routes between Channelside and Hookers Point. A final decision should be made by the end of October, said Brad Baird, the city's public works and utility services administrator.

That's good news to many island residents who packed a May meeting to voice their displeasure with any plan to include the island in the route for a replacement of the 54-inch line.

Built in 1951 when the island was an uninhabited landfill, the line is aging badly and city engineers feared a rupture could coat the affluent enclave in untreated sewage. The line conveys about one-third of the city's sewage, from areas including Seminole Heights, downtown and Channelside.

But residents didn't want construction crews tearing up green space and walking paths on the island. Nor were they keen on temporarily closing roads that connect the island to downtown Tampa.

Through Twitter, email and the help of public relations agency Tucker Hall, residents launched a campaign to move the 1.7-mile line offshore.

On Wednesday, they welcomed the city's decision.

"We're very, very happy about it," said Lawrence Premak, president of the South Neighborhood Association on Harbour Island. "We talked to the city; the city listened. We're just very pleased they went that route. It's the right thing to do."

Resident opposition to a Harbour Island route didn't factor into the city's decision, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday.

"Zero. We have to do what's right," Buckhorn said.

Instead, he said, it was "based on the science" and the condition of the force main when sewer officials inspected it.

"The fact that we were able to do what we said we were going to do and go about this methodically and professionally and look at the engineering? That has led us to the point where we think the route will be off the land, which is a win for everyone."

Details about cost and when construction will begin are still unclear. City officials have said replacing the line will be expensive. Previous estimates ran about $25 million. Placing the sewer pipe underwater could add to the costs and obtaining permits for the underwater work will make it more cumbersome, Buckhorn said.

Many permits will be required, Baird said, from agencies including Port Tampa Bay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Baird said he isn't convinced an underwater route will be more expensive.

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Developers of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa have agreed to coordinate construction of the first 900 feet of pipe with their massive mixed-use project from the intersection of Water and South Franklin streets east to South Morgan Street.

"That way we avoid having to tear up the same pavement a year later," Baird said.

It's vital, Buckhorn said, to avoid the rupture of a pressurized pipe so large that an average-sized 10-year-old boy could stand inside it.

"Had we not chosen to do this," he said, "the potential disaster that would have occurred would have been catastrophic."

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.