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Gallons of grease unleashed into CK sewer

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Water District diverts effluent into bay

By Kellie Parkin

“We’ve got a grease problem again,” said Jack Hotaling, Cedar Key Water and Sewer District Manager. “Best way to describe it is sabotage.” On Sunday, someone unlawfully dumped approximately 30 to 40 gallons of grease into the sewer system, Hotaling said in a phone interview Tuesday morning.  “Grease destroys the good bacteria that does all the work in the plant,” Hotaling said. “It also clogs the filters and headworks of our structure. We’ve been collecting it and shoveling it out of the channels and putting into the digester.” The grease pollution left Water District staff no other option but to divert the effluent water into the bay.  “We had to unleash into the bay,” Hotaling said. “We had no other choice.” As of Sunday, all of the effluent is going into the bay, he said. It is discharged into the water off Third Street across from the Water District’s plant. The diversion could continue for up to two weeks.  The water is still being treated, but it cannot be used for irrigation of the park, and cannot be disposed of at the water tower site – where most of the effluent water usually goes – because it no longer meets DEP requirements, Hotaling said.  It usually takes a couple of weeks to get things back to where the effluent meets the standards, he said. It could be as little as a few days. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been notified as protocol requires. Hotaling said it could be as soon as a day or as long as a week before he hears back from them. Emergency discharge is permissible within the Water District’s permit. “But it doesn’t let us off the hook with the DEP,” Hotaling said. “They can fine us. And if it’s bad enough, they can shut down clam farming for a while.” If that happens, it would mean that clam farmers would be prevented from harvesting until the DEP clears the situation.   It will not be harmful to people. “It’s a long ways to the beach and the water we turn out here is almost drinking quality,” Hotaling said. “The clam industry is what we’re worried about the most. That’s the livelihood of our community.” The most likely culprit was a restaurant, Hotaling said. “And they know better. It’s a lot of grease. This was intentional.”   Restaurants are supposed to save used grease and dispose of it properly at the landfill or contract with a service to have it picked up.   “It could have been a money thing,” Hotaling said. “Maybe someone didn’t want to pay to have it hauled away.”   The potential monetary damage is extensive, he said. It will depend on the impact to  the clam industry and if the DEP decides to assess fines. “Whoever did this is not playing by the rules,” he said. “And this impacts our community significantly.”