The City of Jacksonville has released an update on the 250,000 sewer spill from the Barden Wastewater Pump Station on September 7.
Officials report that disciplinary action has been initiated against some employees who failed to notice the issue that led to the spill.
Officials state when "the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee came across the area it produced an electrical storm that caused a power surge that caused the interrupter circuit to trip out as designed. Once this circuit tripped out, the pumps stopped running causing sewage to fill up the gravity lines and eventually lead to the overflow upstream of the lift station. Conditions were monitored at a City control point but employees did not notice that the pumps were not running after the surge."
A new control and monitoring system was approved by the city council in January. The city is now expediting efforts to put the system in place to improve the alarm status to help prevent further issues.
Below is the news release from the City of Jacksonville.
"Update on the September 7, 2011 Incident
A Public Discussion
This report is intended to provide the public with information about actions that led to the release of approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater upstream from the City of Jacksonville’s Barden Wastewater Pump Station September 7, 2011, what the City of Jacksonville learned about that wastewater release and what actions the City will take to prevent such releases in the future.
At 4:06 PM, September 7, 2011 a plant operator noticed that the pumps at the station had not operated for some time. City staff found a flow of wastewater upstream from the station about 4:15 PM. At that time, a pump in the station was not running. It was quickly restored to an operating status and immediately efforts began for cleanup of the site.
The Pump Station
The pump station is located off Marine Boulevard near Barden Street. The station serves a large area including parts of Western Boulevard. The station has two pumps that draw on wastewater that has been delivered to the pump station by gravity. Control systems cycle from one pump to the other and report to on-duty operators the status of the pumps.
What Happened To Allow the Overflow
After damage from Hurricane Irene, a temporary control box was installed. This control box was wired to a Ground Fault Interrupter circuit. When the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee came across the area it produced an electrical storm that caused a power surge that caused the interrupter circuit to trip out as designed. Once this circuit tripped out, the pumps stopped running causing sewage to fill up the gravity lines and eventually lead to the overflow upstream of the lift station. Conditions were monitored at a City control point but employees did not notice that the pumps were not running after the surge.
Actions the City has Taken
First, City staff restored power to the Ground Fault Interrupter circuit and the pumps began pumping again. Once the pumps started pumping, the overflow stopped. City staff then switched to cleanup and remediation mode. The State was notified of the spill at 7:23 PM on September 7, 2011 and again the morning of September 8. City staff used a jet truck to clean up as much of the spill as possible the night of September 7 and began pulling water samples at 7:30 AM September 8. Under guidance from the State, samples were taken every day from September 8 thru September 11. City Manager, Dr. Richard Woodruff personally contacted two environmental groups who have an interest in the New River to notify them about the overflow and the actions the City has taken.
The City initiated investigation into the incident determined that the failure of some employees to notice the condition led to the continued discharge after the apparent initial electrical surge. Disciplinary action has been initiated as a result of that finding.
In January, the City Council approved funding for a new control and monitoring system. The City Manager has ordered additional efforts in implementing the system in such a manner that alarm status is clearly communicated to operators on duty and to other responsible personnel.
A History of Environmental Protection Actions
The City is proud of the efforts it has taken to improve and protect the environment. The restoration of Wilson Bay habitat and the contributions the City has made toward overall habitat restoration in the New River are part of these actions. The City’s environmentally friendly wastewater land application plant allowed the City to no longer discharge into the New River and was at the time, the largest such plant in the State. Today the City has a full time water quality division that tests public waters in the City and continues the effort at habitat restoration.
The City is also engaged in regular public education campaigns through the Jacksonville-Onslow Government television channel, newspaper and utility bill inserts, the City calendar, public events, flyers and web based information to discourage the placement of any item in the wastewater stream other than human waste and toilet paper.
The City of Jacksonville regrets that this action occurred. The City Manager and senior staff are taking actions to work to avoid this type of incident from occurring again. The City continues to work to take actions to minimize spills and to maintain our environment."