Sewer and stormwater pipes getting a hard look in Madeira Beach

Published Nov. 27, 2012

MADEIRA BEACH — If smelly smoke starts coming out of your sink or shower drains, don't panic.

The smoke is part of a weeklong testing of the city's sanitary sewer system by Pinellas County that will identify cracks and other issues that may need repair. It is set to end Friday.

The city is simultaneously conducting a study of its aging stormwater drainage system that is expected to need several million dollars in repairs. That report is likely not to be completed until January.

This week's testing involves pumping nontoxic, artificially created smoke down sewer manholes and through sewer pipes along Bay Point, Crystal, Flamingo and Lillian drives, Johns Pass Avenue, First and Second streets E, Harbor Drive, Municipal Drive and Rex Place in the northern end of the city, as well as along Gulf Boulevard between 135th and 140th Avenues, part of Boca Ciega Avenue and all of 137th Avenue Circle to the south.

More smoke testing is planned in the city in December, but the specific areas have not yet been identified. Residents affected will be notified with special door hangers placed before each testing period.

During testing, if smoke enters a home, windows or doors should be opened to provide ventilation.

The smoke, which is not harmful to people or animals but can cause irritation, has a "distinctive but not unpleasant odor," according to county officials, who say it will disappear in minutes with proper ventilation.

Residents can prevent the nonstaining smoke from coming into their homes by pouring water into any drains not normally used.

Homeowners and business owners will be notified of any defects on private property in need of repair by licensed plumbers. Cost of those repairs is the responsibility of the property owners.

The testing is also expected to identify illegal or improper connections from roof gutters and yard drains to the county's sewer system, Baker said.

"We discovered we have a lot of problems when Tropical Storm Debby overloaded the system," he said.

The county purchased the city's sewer system in 2007 for more than $3 million and is responsible for maintaining and repairing the public portion of the system.

"We haven't done repairs in about 10 years," David Baker, the county's public information manager, said Tuesday.

The city still has the money it received for the sewer system and is holding it in reserve to defray the costs of repairing its stormwater system, as well as a possible down payment for building a new city hall complex.

"We have enough for a significant down payment on a new city hall, but I am advocating a small down payment with the balance financed over a number of years and paid for by the people who will be using it," City Manager Shane Crawford said Tuesday.

However much is used, Crawford is confident the city will have enough money to pay for repairs to its stormwater system.

"We have been told it will be a multimillion project extending over several years," Crawford said.

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A preliminary report in October from the engineering firm Cribb Philbeck Weaver Group revealed that more than 50 percent of the city's approximate 100 stormwater outfalls are clogged with oyster shell growth.

In other areas, beach buildup is blocking some pipes. In others, the pipes are too small to handle stormwater surges.

High tides, particularly during storms, can back up into the system, further aggravating flooding.

The firm is recommending the city consider installing flap gates at outfalls to prevent seawater intrusion, at a cost ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the size of the outflow basins.

In addition, some areas will need larger pipes.

A pump station that could cost about $500,000 would hasten water dispersal.

On the recommendation of the engineers, the city has postponed earlier planned street resurfacing that would be torn up during a stormwater rehabilitation project.

Crawford said the city will repave streets, however, where there are no significant stormwater system issues.