The property owner and its contractor reached agreement Wednesday on repairing the problem at the Clear Lake Palms apartments and condominiums.
WEST PALM BEACH -- Thousands of gallons of sewage spewed out of an Executive Center Drive manhole in three incidents Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, much of it oozing down a street gutter and into a storm drain 985 feet from the city’s Clear Lake reservoir.
West Palm Beach officials said the leak, from the Clear Lake Palms apartment and condo complex’s private sewer system, did not reach the reservoir.
The city cited the complex in August for sewage main issues. But the complex’s management held off on permanent repairs for several months to gather the money, then wound up in a dispute with the contractor after the pipeline damage turned out more extensive and expensive than the initial estimate indicated.
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The contractor and property manager both said the dispute was resolved shortly before noon Wednesday and that work would restart Thursday.
Poonam Kalkat, the city’s utilities director, said West Palm Beach inspectors cited the complex at 437 Executive Center Drive in August, after noticing a depression in the roadway.
Theodore Morgan, owner of Premier Comfort Services, said Clear Lake Palms hired his company in November to provide an estimate, which came out to $48,000.
The complex didn’t have enough money in its annual budget and decided to wait until 2020 to do the work, Pablo Santos, of Miami-based De Sol Property Management, said Wednesday.
As a result, Morgan said, "they didn’t get back to us and give the OK to move forward until January."
After the contractor obtained city permits, excavation began in late February. That’s when Premier saw the problem was worse than expected, Morgan said.
A cast iron, 120-foot-long main had collapsed, and it was clear that sewage had been leaking for more than a year, he said. The repair and cleanup would cost more than $100,000 and would require an immediate deposit of $50,000, with $25,000 more due upon installation of the new pipe, Morgan told the property manager.
The increase was not well-received.
"It went from the agreed amount to a triple amount," Santos said. He denied sewage leaked for a year.
According to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report, this week’s overflow started after the contractor left the site.
Sewage backed up and 500 gallons spilled into a storm drain Sunday. A city crew mopped up the mess with a vacuum truck, but on Monday, another 500 gallons spilled onto the ground and into the storm drain.
A third spill spewed sewage from 9 p.m. Monday until 8 a.m. Tuesday, dumping 6,500 gallons, the city estimated. Again, a crew cleaned the leak area and the storm drain, officials said.
For comparison, the average swimming pool uses 18,000 to 20,000 gallons.
The contractor refused to do any more work until the association committed to paying, Morgan said.
By Wednesday morning, the association had found the money it needed and paid the deposit, and work was set to begin, Santos said.
"It’s a huge job," he said. "We understand that sometimes there are change orders, but the association was not expecting this amount of adjustment."
Though the site is a block from Clear Lake, a reservoir that feeds the city’s water purification plant, there are no indications contamination reached the lake, KalKat said.
The stormwater system in the area leads water west from the apartment site, under Interstate 95 and into a canal.
The city is sampling water quality at that outfall and put up barriers there "to contain any possible spill," spokeswoman Kathleen Walter said. "Nothing flowed into the source water lakes."
Underground water pressure from the lake would push any leakage away from it, Kalkat added.
According to Kalkat, repairs to the privately owned main were the complex’s responsibility, but the city alerted the complex to the problem, monitored the situation and supplied vacuum trucks to suck up sewage that overflowed the manhole.
The city has asked its risk-management division to determine whether the complex should be charged to reimburse the city, she said.
Also under consideration, she said, is how to deal with such situations involving private infrastructure in the future.
It’s possible the city would require property owners to sign a letter of understanding, stating that it’s their responsibility to maintain the systems and that if they don’t, they could be liable, she said.
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