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Longboat Key not required to replace sewer line after 11-million gallon spill

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection instead is fining the town and requiring other short and long-term action steps.

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. — It's been almost one year since the sewage spill that dumped 11 million gallons of sewage into Sarasota Bay. Now, we're learning the town of Longboat Key will not be required to replace the aging sewer line that broke.

"It looked like sewage and smelled like it," one local resident said as he described the scene from last June. 

RELATED: Longboat Key sewage break spilled into Sarasota Bay for weeks

"The line had been in place for 47 years and about four years ago, we hired a firm to assess the pipe," Longboat Key town manager Tom Harmer said. But the leak still happened despite passing the inspection. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will not force the town to replace the aging sewer line but instead is enforcing a  few other action steps.

"We have an option to pay a fine or submit 'in-kind projects' and we also have to conduct a survey and provide updated soil tests on the property and review that with the state," Harmer said.

The town must also show the state how it will evaluate the pipe to make sure it's safe to operate and it must also replant the mangroves that were destroyed. But Suncoast Water Keeper founder Justin Bloom says what was decided may not be enough.

"It's not as thorough as the first round of recommendations. The most visible change was the reduced fine. I'm more concerned about practices of how communities like Longboat Key should be maintaining infrastructure," Bloom said.

The DEP reduced the fine from around $244,000 to around $188,000. Bloom says it's important for the town to prioritize this issue before something else happens. 

"If there's a breach underneath the bay that would be disastrous," Bloom said, "and there's no redundancy to get waste off the island if that pipe ruptures. So I think the main threat and focus is which I believe the town is focusing on, is how to get it repaired or replaced."

Harmer says just because replacing the pipe is not a mandatory requirement from the state doesn't mean it's completely off the table for discussion.

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