Irma leaves a river of sewage flowing in a Florida neighborhood

As if Hurricane Irma didn’t leave a big enough mess around Manatee County, the storm caused a 10-inch force sewer mainline to rupture near the Lakeside South neighborhood.

The 40-year-old sewer line ruptured along 43rd Avenue West just north of Cortez Road and sent raw sewage surging hundreds of feet to the east, well into the neighborhood. Resident Danielle Borden said sewage swept through her backyard, into her front yard and began filling up the street.

“We actually had sewage flowing down the street like a river,” Borden said. “It was deep enough that far away from the leak, where it would cover the top of your boots. It was moving at such a high rate of speed, we started moving all of our belongings into trucks wondering what to do because at least one person at the city said they may have to evacuate the neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, it was the only call Borden was able to connect with city personnel in a three-day period.

“I called 28 times in three days and no one called me back,” said Borden, who noted when she finally did connect with someone, she was offered an apology. As of Thursday, four days after Hurricane Irma, residents were still frustrated with the odor and lack of communication from the city.

Residents were finally assured that the leak was under control and repairs were beginning as the city’s contractor, Venice-based De Jonge Excavating Contractors arrived yesterday to get the situation under control. De Jonge supervisor Buzzy Drymon said once the pipe was exposed, it was apparent it had been seeping sewage for some time given the number of holes found.

Drymon’s crew was able to dig out the manhole and force the still active sewage line to deliver materials into the city’s gravity-fed system, so no one is without sewer at this time. Drymon said his crews will begin replacing the pipe southward toward Cortez Road where it is believed a newer PVC pipe is located.

Residents were concerned about their drinking water but were finally told that they are two different systems. Manatee County has a stormwater system on the other side of the street, and Drymon said there had been work done there recently, “but they never fixed the problem. I can’t say for sure, but the ground was already saturated around here when the storm hit, so between that, the storm and the age of the pipe, this is a mess.”

Drymon said when the leak was first reported, someone came out and took the manhole cover off, which allowed the initial flood of sewage to surge from the affecyed area. Drymon said that unfortunately, the cover was left off.

Public Works Director Jim McLellan confirmed city workers made the initial inspection, but he could not confirm whether the cover was replaced after the inspection.

“We had to investigate what was happening and when we were there, it wasn’t coming up through the manhole,” McLellan said. “That line is pretty much the head, or dead end of the gravity system. They will chase the pipe back heading south until they can find solid pipe to connect and if not, they will replace the entire line.”

Borden said several of her long-time neighbors have told her that area has been a problem area in years past, but McLellan said he has no record of there being issues on that line prior to Hurricane Irma. The project is expected to take about three weeks to complete and the city will begin assessing the impact to nearby residents and businesses.