Sewage spill closes Florida beachesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Published Wednesday, June 21, 2000, in the Miami Herald
SEWAGE SPILL CLOSES BEACHES WORKERS HIT UNDERWATER PIPE AT BEACH MARINA BY GAIL EPSTEIN NIEVES, CHRIS GAITHER AND JUDY ODIERNA firstname.lastname@example.org
County administrators on Tuesday closed miles of beaches on Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, along with a huge swath of Biscayne Bay, after construction workers accidentally punctured a major sewer line, sending millions of gallons of raw sewage spewing into the bay.
Regulators advised the public to avoid swimming, fishing or diving in possibly contaminated waters from 41st Street in Miami Beach -- including the Indian Creek waterways -- all the way south to the tip of Key Biscayne, including Fisher Island and Virginia Key, and west to Matheson Hammock Park.
Beaches will not reopen for at least 48 hours, county officials say. Water tests must be clean for at least two straight days before health officials will open the beaches. Administrators said the earliest they could expect to stop the leak would be midday today.
``It's a major spill,'' said Barbara Sanchez, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade's Water and Sewer Department.
Emergency divers were examining the break Tuesday evening, as Miami-Dade and Miami Beach administrators tried to determine the best way to repair it and stop the spill. Sanchez said an average of 24 million gallons of sewage flow every day through the line -- a million gallons an hour, nearly 17,000 gallons a minute. The line is the only conduit carrying sewage from Bal Harbor, Surfside and Miami Beach.
Despite huge flow of sewage, little environmental damage was anticipated. The extra nutrients in the water might hurt some coral in the immediate area or cause a boom in plankton, but the waste is much more harmful to humans than marine life, said Susan Markley, chief of the Department of Environmental Resources Management's natural resources division.
``Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn't cause any acute fish-kill or anything like that,'' she said. ``It's not like a fuel spill or some other hazardous spill.''
Miami Beach officials said engineers were considering bringing in a large underwater clamp or diverting the flow to an abandoned pipeline at 71st Street. No repairs were expected before early today, when an emergency contractor was scheduled to send a team to evaluate the break.
The accident occurred about 12:30 p.m., just off the southernmost pier of South Pointe Park. Workers for Marin and Marin Construction punctured a 54-inch underground sewer main that carries waste water from South Pointe to the central district wastewater plant on Virginia Key, Sanchez said.
Rick Sadler, general manager for Marin and Marin, a marine construction firm, said the company was hired to sink 42 concrete pilings, each 42 feet long, for the construction of new boat lifts at the Miami Beach Marina. Sadler said he did not know how the accident occurred, though it appeared construction maps being used on the job were not complete.
``On the construction plans that we had, that the superintendent on the job site had, there was no indication of any utility lines,'' he said.
Sadler could not say who provided the construction plans. Marin and Marin was the subcontractor, he said, working for Broward-based general contractor Amerilift Technology. A phone call to Amerilift was not returned.
Matthew Schwartz, Miami Beach assistant city manager, said it wasn't clear whether Marin and Marin ``had the proper permits to do whatever they were doing.'' Sadler said his company is fully ``licensed, bonded and insured.''
City Manager Lawrence Levy said establishing blame for what happened would have to wait: ``We're not up to that part of the process. The priority right now is getting this problem solved.''
Bruce Henderson, environmental resources director for Miami Beach public works, said because the tide was heading out when the spill first occurred, sewage spread toward the beaches. Around 5 p.m., when the tide turned, it brought the sewage back into the bay, he said.
Tuesday afternoon found Angel Rodrmguez and his 13-year-old son at the Miami Beach Marina cleaning the bottom of a 56-foot Sea Ray. Rodrmguez said he felt nauseous when he got out of the water but didn't know why -- until 90 minutes later, when he heard about the spill.
``Thank God it was an outgoing tide,'' he said. ``The water here is bad enough as it is.''
The spill made South Pointe Park a smelly place to avoid. No unusual odors were observed at the South Beach coastline, but the contamination warnings did keep some people away.
Lifeguard Dennis Rutkin, stationed on First Street in Miami Beach, said the shore was not bustling as usual.
``Everyone left,'' he said. ``It ruined some people's day.''
Some of those who stayed were unhappy that they couldn't cool off in the water.
``I feel frustrated,'' said Daniel Lara, on vacation from Honduras. ``This is our first day here and I'm upset that we can't spend it in the water.''
While trying to figure out what caused the accident, health and environmental administrators said they would spend the next few days sampling the waters for harmful bacteria.
``People who have been exposed to the sewage should shower thoroughly with soap, paying special attention to open cuts,'' Henderson said.
Signs saying, ``Danger. Contaminated Water. Avoid contact,'' were to be posted late Tuesday at several Miami Beach locations, including the marina, Lummus Park, the South Pointe Park pier, Island View Park, Purdy Avenue and 18th Street, and all public access points to Miami Beach along Collins Avenue between 15th and 40th streets.
Also, on the beaches at Virginia Key, Crandon Park, Cape Florida, Matheson Hammock Park and all sides of the Rickenbacker Causeway, including Bear Cut near the University of Miami.
Hotel operators along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue seemed unconcerned by the no-swim order. June is traditionally a slow month, they said, and most guests will be content with sunning themselves on the beach or taking a dip in hotel pools, provided the restrictions last no more than a few days.
``We have informed our hotel guests of a temporary setback,'' said Marlo Courtney, director of operations for Goldman Properties, which operates the Park Central Hotel and The Hotel. ``These things happen from time to time.''
The water and sewer department also urged people living in Bal Harbour, Surfside and Miami Beach to conserve water -- including toilet flushing and dish washing -- to reduce flows to the sewer system and help reduce spillage from the broken pipe.
A massive sewage spill like Tuesday's was feared in the mid-1990s, when the federal government sued Miami-Dade County, accusing it of letting the sewer system deteriorate to a dangerous degree. County commissioners agreed to spend more than $1 billion to shore up the aging pipelines and paid a $2 million fine, the largest ever paid by a local government under the Clean Water Act.
Herald staff writers Cynthia Corzo and Sara Olkon contributed to this report.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), June 21, 2000
Posted at 3:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday, June 21, 2000
Miami beach sewer line may not be fixed for days BY MADELINE BARO DIAZ Online News Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org ACCIDENT SCENE: This pile driver, hanging from the crane, broke a sewage pipe that leaked raw sewage into Government Cut. Striken by sewage: A map of the affected area (41KB graphic)
Sewage spill closes beach
Beaches on Miami Beach and Key Biscayne will be off limits for swimming, fishing and diving indefinitely.
On Tuesday, miles of beaches were closed after construction workers accidentally punctured a major sewer line, sending millions of gallons of raw sewage spewing into the bay.
Regulators advised the public to avoid swimming, fishing or diving in possibly contaminated waters from 41st Street in Miami Beach -- including the Indian Creek waterways -- south to the tip of Key Biscayne, including Fisher Island and Virginia Key, and west to Matheson Hammock Park. That advisory area was extended to 163rd Street today.
As of this afternoon, the sewage flow had been rerouted to an old 48- inch sewer line in Miami Beach, said Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department spokeswoman Barbara Sanchez.
Complicating matters was the fact that the pipe is five feet underground and the sewage was spewing out at high pressure -- about 25 million gallons a day (roughly a million gallons an hour), Sanchez said.
The next step is to shut off the valve so a contractor can begin repairs, Sanchez said. It is unknown how many days repairs will take, she said. Water tests must be clean for at least two consecutive days before health officials will open the beaches.
The line is the only conduit carrying sewage from Bal Harbour, Surfside and Miami Beach.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), June 21, 2000.