Frontier contractors spill over 500,000 gallons of reclaimed water in Pinellas County over last month

The six January spills put together totaled 507,635 gallons.

click to enlarge An aerial view of the Madeira Beach area, where several water mains were broken by contractors recently. - Adobe Stock Images
Adobe Stock Images
An aerial view of the Madeira Beach area, where several water mains were broken by contractors recently.
Last month, contractors for Frontier Communications were named in several reclaimed water spill incidents, totaling over 500,000 gallons.

The spills occurred when three different contractors working for Frontier hit water mains and released the water in mostly small amounts, except for a huge half-a-million gallon spill on Jan. 19.

Vertek LLC, while working for Frontier, hit an eight-inch water main causing it to break, Pinellas County reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).  The spill went on for four hours, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. During that time, the water spilled and saturated the area before going into Boca Ciega Bay.

Fortunately, the water was already treated reclaimed water (the kind people use to water their lawns) and was not sewage. However, this was just one of several water main breaks contractors for Frontier caused in January, costing the county money and disrupting service to customers.

According to FDEP's spill map from the past 30 days, six spills occurred at the hands of three different Frontier contractors in the Madeira Beach area. The companies named on the FDEP website are: Vertek LLC, Conquest Engineering and MasTec engineering.
Kevin King, Senior Water Quality Management  Specialist for Pinellas County, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the crews are installing fiber optic lines in the area.

click to enlarge A map shows where the spills have occurred in the Madeira Beach area. - Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
A map shows where the spills have occurred in the Madeira Beach area.

All of the spills were caused by the contractors hitting reclaimed water mains during their work. Most were small in comparison to the large spill. The second largest was 3,056 gallons on reported on Jan. 17, and the third largest was 2,000 gallons, reported on Jan. 14. The six spills put together totaled 507,635 gallons.

CL reached out to Frontier Communications for input on why these spills occurred and what precautions are taken to avoid these water spills, but has not yet received a response. This post will be updated if one comes in.

After water main breaks like this, Pinellas County has to make repairs for its citizens, then try to recoup the money from companies later.

"We take photos and we estimate dollar amounts spent for the repairs, and then our risk management department ends up going after collecting the money back," Jeremy Capes, Division Director of Water Quality and Data Management for Pinellas County told CL. "That can take anywhere from I would say months to years, depending on dollar amount, and if it's challenged by the company or not."

Companies do challenge repair charges at times, Capes said, but it's not the norm. Last year, the county also started naming the companies involved in the main breaks, and charging companies with FDEP fines assessed to the county for spills.

Pinellas County confirmed that before the contractors dug, they followed a Florida law called The Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act, which requires that any company digging contact the county and have an area assessed and marked to avoid damaging infrastructure.

Capes said that even though the area was marked, the damage could have occurred for a number of reasons, including what type of machines the companies use and how deep they dig.

He said that he thinks that communication between the county and companies is key in the future.

"We hope that the contractors and the county can work closer in the future," he said. 

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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