BRADENTON -- The city may have to pay as much as $25,000 in fines for a geyser that dumped almost 3.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the Manatee River.
Claude Tankersley, the city’s director of public works and utilities, said while the Clean Water Act fines are $25,000 a day, he expects the city to pay closer to $12,000 because workers were able to staunch the geyser of sewage from a broken main in just over 13 hours.
City and state workers are monitoring the water quality in the river. Tankersley told city council members on Wednesday morning that the city is taking 15 water samples a day, testing for nutrients, nitrogen and chloroform bacteria among other things.
The city does not yet have an estimate on the cost of repairing the break and cleaning up the contamination.
Test results are expected today for the water samples taken on Wednesday.
Tankersley said there have been no reports of fish kills and that he doesn’t expect any. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection responded to the spill and was out with city workers at the site through most of the crisis.
Workers at the sewage treatment plant on 17th Street West near First Street noticed the break in a 30-inch pipe at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday. The geyser was gushing waste water at 4,500 gallons a minute.
By 1 a.m. Wednesday, workers had installed line stops to stop the sewage from flowing through the broken pipe and onto the city’s property and into storm drains that lead into the Manatee River.
The spill into the river was contained from the seawall to the channel and from the railroad bridge to 15th Street West, Tankersley said Wednesday morning. He said the channel acts as a barrier and so the Palmetto side of the Manatee River was not affected by the spill.
The spill happened at high tide so much of the sewage got sucked out with the tide, he added.
There was enough actual fecal matter to cover a football field, he said.
While the city began posting signs warning people not to swim, jet ski or fish in the waters downtown, Tankersley said “the river can handle this.”
“By now I would say it’s back to normal,” he told council members at an 8:30 a.m. Wednesday work session. “I expect the recreational uses to be open by Monday.”
Councilman Harold Byrd said he drove by the site Wednesday morning to check out the damage and noticed “just a little smell there.
“What I thought was a catastrophe yesterday, well, what a difference a day makes,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tankersley said that the waste water treatment plant was fully operating.
“We have been able to find the break in the pipe,” he said. “It was a burst at the top of the pipe. We still don’t know why it burst.”
The pipe, which had a 1-inch diameter hole at the top, was last replaced sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, Tankersley said. He said the city is still investigating the cause of the break.
City workers were able to quickly contain the spill to city property and 17th Avenue by building dirt berms around the site where sewage was gushing, he said.
“Within a half hour of us noticing it, we had it contained,” he said.
City employees stayed at the site throughout the day to dig out the pipe and find the leak. Workers brought out food and water so they wouldn’t have to leave the site. One worker stayed for 16 hours to make sure that the spill was contained and stopped.
“We had no illness or injury from this,” Tankersley told the council.
Tankersley told council members the spill did not reach private property and did not affect the public “except in convenience and smell.”
By the time commuters were on the road Wednesday morning the city had cleaned and reopened 17th Avenue West and the city was preparing for a Marauders baseball game at McKechnie Field, nine blocks west of the treatment plant.