WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection highlighted a major fish kill in Winter Springs and numerous other violations in a recently released consent order.
The agency issued that order to the city, but one group said Winter Springs officials have not been open about what is going on.
Members of a group said their tax dollars are paying for a murky marketing campaign to fight groups calling attention to it.
Winterspringswater.com said the city does not acknowledge the multiple spills or the many mistakes FDEP points out in its consent order or the $151,000 in fines the city faces.
Instead, this is what residents are being told:
“A consent order indicates that the state has reviewed and agrees with the city’s water infrastructure repair plan and ‘orders’ the city to continue implementing their plan.
Jesse Phillips created a group called the Winter Springs Water Quality Initiative to pressure officials to be more transparent.
“What they’re educating people is with a message, which is explicitly designed to make people not concerned about what’s going on,” he said. “They created a science center. If you look at their ads, it says, ‘hey, visit the Winter Springs Water Science Center. There’s no science center.”
9 Investigates’ Jeff Levkulich requested to interview officials about the wastewater issue and the city’s marketing plan.
The meeting was set up, but when Levkulich arrived, the city was not not prepared for the interview.
City manager Shawn Boyle said he wanted to have a conversation about the water issues and needed more detailed questions.
“When I asked you something, and I have a follow up question for it, you should know the answer,” Levkulich said. “You’re the city manager.”
Boyle never did put a microphone on for a formal interview, but he did discuss the wastewater issues.
“No one’s proud that we had an accident,” Boyle said. “We had an underground explosion in a pipe at the west plant, and it caused the plant to fail.”
The plants, which were built in the 1970s, are beyond their life expectancy.
The city allowed 9 Investigates to tour its east plant in the Tuskawilla area.
Levkulich saw holes in basins and rust.
Scott Richards, with consulting firm Corallo Engineers, was hired by the city in 2019 to oversee the rehabilitation of the plants, which he said have problems that are experienced statewide.
“It looks like it’s in bad shape,” Levkulich said while touring the plant.
“It is. This is beyond bad to be honest,” Richards said. “I can pretty much reach over and peel off portions of the plant, right? So that’s not a good sign.”
The plants must be patched up to last at least another five years as the cost to replace two plants is about $100 million.
Boyle said the website that distribute information to the public costs the city $6,000, and social media marketing costs $300.
He said that in addition to working on the wastewater problems, the consent order bumps Winter Springs up on the list when it comes to revolving loan fund monies, which can help with funding pollution prevention projects to offset paying the fines.
As far as the “science center” on the city’s website, officials describe it as a virtual educational component.
But Phillips said the “misinformation” and the city’s years of inaction will eventually cost taxpayers as the financial situation is much worse than it would have been had the city been proactive.
©2022 Cox Media Group