Thursday, October 28, 2021
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Crumbling wastewater plant sparks emergency repairs

An emergency repair of “collapsing” portions of a water treatment plant had officials talking about a major overhaul of the city’s wastewater facilities at the Winter Springs City Commission meeting Monday night.

Engineers found rusty metal at the city’s eastern water treatment plant in the Tuscawilla neighborhood, causing internal wall failures on a tank and other problems serious enough to require emergency repairs that may take months to complete.

“Those walls were buckling in and collapsing,” said Rob Nicholas, a vice president at Veolia North America LLC, which the city contracted to help solve its wastewater issues.

He spoke of a treatment facility that engineers found was more deteriorated than first thought, leading to a race to fix problems before they became worse. That includes draining the wastewater plant to inspect all the damage and begin more long-term repairs.

“It is not a question of draining the plant. It’s not if we drain it. It’s not when we drain it. We’re draining it now,” he said.

City Manager Shawn Boyle said the deterioration was part of a long-term issue that hadn’t been addressed until recently.

“These plates on these walls are quarter-inch-thick steel plates,” he said. “There’s not an engineer in Florida that’s going to tell you that this happened in the last 24 months. You can see the internal walls delaminating.”

“This happened over the last 15 to 20 years,” Boyle added. “These plants are well beyond their useful life.”

Boyle clarified that the wastewater treatment facility and the city’s potable water systems are unrelated.

Preliminary estimates put the repairs at 3-4 months long, with Nicholas saying crews would be working 12 hours per day, 6 days per week.

The plant will be operating at 40 percent capacity in the meantime, with the system’s flow being shifted into a second wastewater tank, according to city officials.

“The biggest effect once they drain the tank would be the smell since it’s a wastewater tank,” Deputy City Manager Casey Howard said. Nicholas said that while crews drain the tank and begin repairs they will be employing measures to reduce odors.

In an email to residents, the city said folks should report any prolonged noise, odor or traffic resulting from their work on this issue by calling 407-327-1800 or emailing communications@winterspringsfl.org.

Howard said that until the extent of the repairs needed is investigated there will not be an estimated repair cost. The Commission Monday approved up to $300,000 to repair the facility, though repairs will have to be approved before moving forward. Boyle said the city has reached out to county and state legislators to help cover the cost.

The emergency repair sparked conversation between the Commission and engineers about what will be done with the rest of the city’s neglected wastewater facilities.

Commissioner Rob Elliott expressed frustration with the apparent deferred maintenance of the city’s wastewater facilities.

“It appears to be actions by (past) commissioners over the years have been a methodical approach to kick this can down the road,” he said.

Recently the city has begun investigating its long-term wastewater and water reuse issues, with Commissioner Kevin Cannon leading the push for answers about what led to the alleged neglect of the facilities. The city recently issued subpoenas of 11 former city commissioners, engineers and staff to determine what they knew about issues related to an inoperable water reuse facility at Central Winds Park that was designed to supply 1 million gallons of water per day.

Boyle and Nicholas were quick to point out that plans and contingency plans are in place to repair the facilities for now, with an eye to the future. Boyle said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved of the city’s plans.

“We have a well-planned project for each one of these plants,” Boyle said. “That will buy us time to replace these plants.”

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