Vice Mayor Gibson: Recurring failure of Sand Key sewer pipeline “stinks”

CLEARWATER - A 16-inch sanitation sewer pipeline that averages a daily flow of 450,000 gallons on a half-mile stretch on Gulf Boulevard on Sand Key will be replaced some eighteen years earlier than its life expectancy at a cost of $494,932.
The pipeline was constructed in 2000-01 as part of a joint roadway improvement project with Pinellas County to widen Gulf Boulevard, which required the relocation of utilities and a new pipeline to be laid from Clearwater Pass south to the city limits.
Three separate failures of the pipeline resulted between 2007 and 2012, according to city reports. The recurring breaks triggered further investigation, which determined that an initial cause was “substandard materials (PVC fittings) and faulty construction techniques (restrained joints),” City Engineer Rob Fahey told the city council last week.
To prevent future pipeline failures, the city will need to remove and replace the remaining pipeline fittings and restrained joints.
Calling it “shoddy construction,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson had a variety of questions, asking, “How could this have happened? Who is responsible? And when do they reimburse us?”
Fahey responded, “We see no recourse in going back to Pinellas County or the contractor. Even though we are as irritated as anyone else, spending this level of money. Everyone agrees the pipe should have lasted longer.”
Countered Gibson, “I really have a problem with us being stuck with everything when the contractor is guilty of substandard materials and faulty construction techniques, inspected by the county, and we wrote the check.”
Fahey reassured the vice mayor that what “happened 12 years ago isn't current standard practice today. We demand oversight today regarding every aspect of construction. After examining the failures, the problems were isolated to the fittings.”
City officials have confronted the county and asked for reimbursement, but those officials have resisted, City Manager Bill Horne said.
City Attorney Pam Atkin noted that legal options are limited because the city signed off on the work and the pipeline had been tested and found to be adequate in 2001. Moreover, the warranty period has since expired and the four-year statute of limitations has passed since the first pipeline failure was discovered in 2007.
City Engineering Specialist II Kelly O'Brien wrote in an email to the Gazette, “The force main should have a useful life of at least 30 years. Forty years is not out of the question.”
Once the repairs are made, he indicated, the useful life of the pipeline should be at least 30 years.
The 90-day construction project is expected to begin in late September or early October. Along with general public communications, the city will put up large message boards along Gulf Boulevard about two weeks prior to the start of the work.
An above-ground temporary bypass will be constructed to provide uninterrupted sewer service during the project. Lane shifts are expected to begin about a week after construction starts. Traffic will be routed around the work zone, and two-way traffic will be maintained throughout the duration.
Only temporary lane closures are expected, but not at night, weekends or holidays. 
The funds to pay for the project will come from the Capital Improvement Program for sanitation sewer improvements.
Gibson's last words on the agenda item were, “It stinks. It really stinks.”
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