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Wastewater Treatment Facilities Could Pay Double For Not Controlling Their Waste

Blaise Gainey

While most of the news about state waters has been focused on red tide, those near the Indian River Lagoon have also been dealing with brown tide, which thrives off sewage. Now as Blaise Gainey reports, lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to increase the penalties a company would have to pay for a sewage spill.

“I want to start with a number. And the number is this 2,701,769,627, 2.7 billion. What is that number? That is the number of raw sewage that has been put into our waterways over the last 10 years,” said Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay).

He says it’s up to local governments to fix the issue.

“That means once every 3 hours in the state of Florida raw sewage was being put into our water that is a fundamental responsibility of our local government to fix it and not fixing it is simply unacceptable,” said Fine.

Fine believes local governments are not taking action because the penalties are not strong enough.

“The problem that we have is that the penalties are too small. In my county, if memory serves 22 million gallons spilled the actual required fine was about $13,000 so what do you think they’ve done since this 18 month ago. Nothing. This bill will change that and that’s why it’s important.”

Fine’s bill would require a wastewater treatment facility to notify the public every time an unlawful sewage discharge happens - included with the names of politicians who oversee the facility.

Fine4                                                   :09                               oc: system gets upgraded

"The second thing it would do is it would require $2 to be spent for every gallon of raw sewage released to make sure that the problem gets fixed and the system gets upgraded," said Fine

Sarasota Republican Senator Joe Gruters is sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate.

“The cause is all of us, everybody who lives in Florida is part of the cause, but you can’t overlook and ignore when billions of gallons of sewage are dumped into our waterways on a consistent basis. and we accept it as an accident or overflow because of rain," said Gruters.

Fine says after Hurricane Irma overwhelmed wastewater facilities in 2017, he was shocked to see what the local governments response was.

“When Hurricane Irma happened two years ago, Hurricane Irma lasted 3 days. But if you ask local politicians in Brevard county they will tell you it lasted 35 days. Why? Because when Irma happened they opened the spigots and for 35 days 24 hours a day 7 days a week they released 22 million gallons of raw sewage. To put that into perspective that is One thousand swimming pools full of what you flush down the toilet,” said Fine.

He says during that time the county commission instead of using money to address the problem, spent 7 million dollars for a basketball arena in Titusville, 5 million dollars for AstroTurf, 500 thousand for antiques for a museum.

"My favorite one, they voted on this literally while the sewage spill was happening. They thought $200,000 to build a new kayak ramp a quarter mile away from where the sewage was going into the water was a great idea. Why?" he asked. "Because each one of these things you get to have a groundbreaking, guys like you show up, everyone gets patted on the back, you get a nice hat, you get a golden shovel, you get in the newspaper."

Both the Senate and House bills passed their first committees with two more to go before they make it to their full chambers.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.