Florida Keys News
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Bird center nears compliance with pelican pond

TAVERNIER — The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center has submitted an application to the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency to install and operate a closed-loop wastewater treatment system to filter its troubled pelican pond. 

The application states that the filtered effluent will be used as reclaimed water, and in the event of a flood deeper than 1.5 feet, it would then be discharged into Florida Bay.

The plug-and-play system, which will filter 500 gallons per hour, is the last measure that the bird center must address to correct county and state code violations brought to light by a series of complaints filed by long-time animal activist Russ Rector.

The application, unless challenged, will receive final approval 14 days after being publicly noticed by the bird center on May 26. 

Rector claims he is the one who initially complained to the DEP that waste from the pelican pond was being dumped illegally into the bay.

According to John Stuart, the bird center’s president, the pelican pond filtration system also has an application pending with the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District to tie into its central line.

The pond would send approximately 200 gallons of effluent a week, or 10,400 gallons a year, into the district’s main line, according to district engineer Ed Castle.

The application, if approved, states that the bird center’s discharge would present no public health threat.

“The plan is to have a meter installed between discharge and the pump station for billing purposes,” the application states. The district would then have to implement a fee for volumetric discharge from the pond.

Rob Bulkiewicz, the bird center’s new director, said, “I’d say three of the five commissioners seemed favorable to the idea,” but that the request is the first from a non-profit within the district’s boundaries.

“I probably put 200 gallons of bird poop down the drain at my pet store,” said Key Largo Wastewater District Commissioner Robby Majeska, who owns Keys Kritters. “Pelicans poop in the bay, this is a waste of time. Our system can handle up to 2 million gallons a day.”

Commissioner Andy Tobin had concerns about the request from a policy standpoint.

“This sets a precedent in how we handle other requests,” he said.

The item was listed for discussion on the agenda, but the wastewater district board is to vote on the matter at its Tuesday, June 20, meeting.

The pelican pond’s periodic cleaning backwash is currently being hauled away at a cost to the bird center of approximately 50 cents a gallon.

According to Stuart, the installation of the pond’s filtration system is $20,000 and does not include the additional costs of hauling effluent discharge via truck or through the prospective central sewer system connection.

County code compliance liens against the bird center stood at $21,100 as of last Friday and will continue to accrue $200 a day until compliance is met.

The civil penalty paid by the center to DEP was $5,000, according to DEP spokeswoman Sarah Shellabarger. Additionally, the center was required to offset wetland impacts by purchasing credits worth about $6,000 from a permitted mitigation bank.

tjava@keysnews.com

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