FDEP to Fine Pinellas for Wastewater Violations at Landfill
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04/06/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

Today, Pinellas County agreed to pay the Florida Department of Environmental Protection five thousand dollar fine. The fine is penalty for pumping polluted water from a landfill into nearby surface water bodies. The county is also on the hook for more than twenty-six million dollars in upgrades to prevent this from happening again.

It was the height of the 2009 rainy season. The water level in Pond A at the Bridgeway Acres Landfill in North Pinellas was also at its peak. Pond A is a human-made lake that catches the stormwater that washes through the landfill. Kelsey Oswald, waste to energy program manager at the plant, says this water is usually put to use on site at the waste-to-energy plant. Usually.

We typically use that water as make-up water in the cooling tower. But if we have really heavy rainfall, and get too much water in the pond, sometimes we have more water than we can use, and so we have a permit that allows us to discharge.

On several occasions in the summer of 2009, the water had to be discharged into the nearby Mainlands Canal, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. At least six times, the water from Pond A was in violation of two key standards. One was conductivity, a measure of water’s ability to transfer electrical currents. It gauges certain pollutant levels. The other was the level of nitrogen, which feeds algae blooms in coastal waters. Oswald says the excess nitrogen was due to a number of sources on site.

Primarily, you have nitrogen in—you know, naturally occurring nitrogen. We also have, when vegetation decays, it generates nitrogen. And so we believe some of the reasons—not that our concentrations are even that high, but some of the source is just coming from—we haven’t dredged the pond for a long time, so there’s a lot of material at the bottom of the pond that may be contributing to the nitrogen. Certainly we have the ash from the plant; we use ash from our waste-to-energy plant as cover in the landfill, and it may be contributing to that.

In a consent order, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection fined Pinellas County five thousand dollars, and required that it perform more than 26 million dollars in upgrades on site. FDEP spokeswoman Anna Gibbs said that while the facility was violating standards, the violations occurred within a limited time frame, and should not be perceived as ongoing.

I don’t want to by any means give the perception that these excedences were happening all the time; these discharges only happened when there were periods of rain during a short amount of time, and then they would have to discharge. This was not something that was consistently ongoing throughout the year.

County utilities director Tom Crandall said the upgrades the state is mandating were planned before word got out about the fine, and will start in 2011.

Well, we had fully recognized that we had issues at the facility with the storage pond that we have, storage pond. It’s a large storage pond that has a need for dredging. It also has a need for stabilization of the banks around the storage pond. They’ve been sloughing off and causing problems, and we want to make sure we don’t have any failures with the banks of such a large storage pond. Additionally, we have—the water quality has degregated over time. And we’ve had a need, and recognized that some time ago, for additional treatment.

Oswald said the dredge will deepen the pond by three feet.

Which will allow us to store much more water on site before we have to discharge. And the other thing we’re doing is, we’re—right now, we just have a small lime softening system that we use to treat the pond water to use in plant, and we can only use that water for certain things. We’re building another water treatment plant that’ll treat it to a higher level; it’ll be cleaner, and we’ll be able to use water for more applications on site, and that’ll also minimize the amount we will have to discharge.

Bob Hauser, the county’s solid waste director, said he hopes the upgrades would help keep the facility in line with possible U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards that would regulate nitrogen and phosphorous levels in Florida’s waterways.

We’re hoping that this will even solve the problem and let the state and EPA proceed forward with the numeric standards that they’re talking about.

The county’s agreement to pay the FDEP fine comes the same day that it unanimously approved a project that would widen Keystone Road between U.S. Route19 and East Lake Road in Tarpon Springs. The project would also close two several-miles-long gaps along the Pinellas Trail.

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