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Controversy has emerged around the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s plan to build two emergency sewage tanks in Pensacola’s Long Hollow neighborhood. Residents opposed to ECUA’s plan have launched their own opposition campaign — as well as a lawsuit — to try to stop the plan from moving forward.

With a lot of information and misinformation going around, we wanted to check the pulse of this issue and try to separate fact from fiction.

The tanks will be filled with raw sewage and produce a noxious odor.

Mostly fiction. These tanks would be designed for emergencies, only to be used if something stops sewage from flowing north to ECUA’s Central Water Reclamation Facility. It’s conceivable that the tanks could smell if an emergency occurred requiring their use, but since these tanks will typically be empty, there won’t be anything there to create an odor.

The tanks are going to be filled with raw sewage all the time.

Pure fiction. ECUA has publicly stated the tanks are being built for emergency purposes only. The tanks will be empty in all other instances and are not being built for any other purpose.  The tanks may never be needed, but if they are, ECUA says they will be “the most important piece of infrastructure in the entire region.”

These tanks are going to be located on Palafox Street.

Fiction. In December 2015, ECUA purchased the former Medical Center Clinic property located at 1750 North Palafox Street. However, officials plan to locate the tanks behind the existing building on the site, facing Guillemard Street and right next door to ECUA’s existing Moreno Street Lift Station.

You’ll be able to see these tanks from Palafox Street.

Partly fact, partly fiction. Palafox is on a hill (North Hill) while neighboring Guillemard Street is in a valley (Long Hollow). The slope between the two, combined with the existing Medical Center Clinic building facing Palafox, means that these tanks won’t be visible from Palafox Street or the North Hill neighborhood. However, if the Medical Center Clinic building were to be demolished, the top 10-20 feet of the tanks would be visible from Palafox.

The tanks are going to be located in the middle of a neighborhood.

Mostly fiction. While the site is only about a block outside of the boundaries of the North Hill Historic Preservation District, it sits on a stretch of Guillemard that’s also home to ECUA’s existing Moreno Street Lift Station as well as a large commercial laundry. The nearest homes to the site are around 500 feet away, on the other side of North Palafox Street.

Some residents of nearby North Hill oppose ECUA's plan to build two emergency sewage tanks. (Drew Buchanan/Special to The Pulse)

Some residents of nearby North Hill oppose ECUA’s plan to build two emergency sewage tanks. (Drew Buchanan/Special to The Pulse)

The tanks could easily be built in an industrial area like the ETC Superfund site.

Mostly fiction. Sure, with enough money, you can build anything anywhere. But ECUA’s engineers say that building the tanks at the Escambia Treating Company Superfund site, located about 1.5 miles to the north of the planned site, would add $6-10 million more to the project cost. That’s because such a plan would require an additional 10,000 feet of underground pipe, and possibly a pile-supported foundation due to the contaminated soils at that site — and that’s after what could be years of environmental studies and EPA approvals. Even if it was doable, ECUA engineers say locating the tanks that far away from the Moreno Street lift station would create logistical concerns and compromise system reliability.

These tanks could be built anywhere.

Mostly fiction. Again, if money was no object, sure. But the purpose of these tanks would be to provide an emergency backup for the nearby Moreno Street lift station, which pumps sewage north to ECUA’s Central Water Reclamation Facility. The further the tanks are built from the Moreno Street station, the more underground pipe will be needed, increasing the construction cost, which of course will be borne by ECUA ratepayers. According to ECUA engineers, “hydraulically, technically, and fiscally, the best location is immediately adjacent to the existing Moreno Street Regional lift station.”

ECUA didn’t give adequate public notice about its plans before buying the Medical Center Clinic property.

Partly fact, partly fiction. Before buying the property in November 2015, ECUA didn’t send postcards to nearby property owners or publicly announce why it planned to buy the property — but there’s no legal requirement for them to do either of those things. The agenda for the November 19 meeting where the purchase was approved doesn’t mention the plans, stating only, “Authorization to close on purchase of real property- 1750 North Palafox Street, pg. 25.” While information about ECUA’s plans for the site was included in background material, that information isn’t posted online and is only available at the meeting itself. While ECUA may not have been legally obligated to notify citizens about its plans, it’s clear that the authority could have been more transparent.

The planned tanks would be illegal under this site’s zoning.

Fiction. While city officials said this week that a determination hasn’t yet been made about whether the property’s C-3 zoning would allow what ECUA is proposing, the city code clearly lists “major public utility buildings and structures” are listed as an allowed use. ECUA’s nearby Moreno Street lift station is also zoned C-3, and ECUA facilities on West Government Street and West Zaragoza Street operate under the same zoning and are much closer to houses than these proposed tanks.

Raw sewage is going to run through the streets.

Fiction. In fact, without these tanks, a sewer spill in the event of a pipe fracture or other incident could cause an overflow of sewage onto city streets. These tanks are being built to avoid such incidents that could cause raw sewage to overflow in the Long Hollow community. If such an incident were to occur, and these tanks aren’t there as backup, then that’s when raw sewage is going to overflow into streets.

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