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Venice considers fines for sewage spills

Frustrated after a contractor broke a 16-inch sewer pipe July 24 and caused a spill of 448,800 gallons of raw sewage, Venice City Council members will explore whether they can levy penalties after similar incidents in the future.

Venice Mayor John Holic, who is vacationing, said in emails to staff that he plans to bring it up for discussion when the council reconvenes Aug. 27.

The contractor cut into a 16-inch force main owned by Sarasota County, while digging on land that will become the subdivision Aria by Neal Signature Homes, just west of Jacaranda Boulevard and south of Laurel Road.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, no off-site stormwater systems or bodies of water were affected.

County spokesman Drew Winchester noted that since Sarasota County owns the sewer system and is the permit holder for the treatment plant, any fines levied by the DEP would be issued to the county. The county Risk Management team would then seek compensation from the developer or subcontractor.

Repair costs for the broken sewer line would be charged to the developer as well, he added.

“They were still tallying the cost and repairs,” Winchester said.

Since the spill occurred in the city limits, Holic wrote to both City Manager Ed Lavallee and City Attorney Kelly Fernandez, asking if the city had “penalty clauses for stupid things builders and developers might do.”

While contractors breached pipes during the recently completed downtown road and drainage reconstruction project, Holic noted those were poorly documented after being installed decades ago.