Delray spent $2.1 million after storm sewage chaos; more costs expected

Jan 16, 2018
Failing sewage pumps may result in combined sewer overflows or flooding. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

DELRAY BEACH — Delray Beach spent $2.1 million on generators after widespread power outages following Hurricane Irma caused waste water to spill into some streets

And the city will have to spend even more if it wants to avoid the sewage problems during future storms.

For a week after Hurricane Irma in September, Delray Beach residents were asked to avoid flushing  toilets, running showers or otherwise draining water with the threat — and reports — of waste water spilling into homes and streets.

The city didn’t have enough generators to power lift stations, or the facilities designed to move sewage from lower to higher elevations to keep it from overflowing. 

“We had reports out in the neighborhoods of waste water everywhere,” said Marjorie Craig, the city’s public utilities director. 

City officials spent $2.1 million on 23 new emergency generators after the storm. The city commission ratified the $2.1 million purchase at a meeting Tuesday, and revisited the missteps following Irma.

“We were woefully inadequate,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said, saying the city didn’t have enough generators to power the sewage pumps.

Even with the purchase of the 23 emergency generators shortly after the storm, the city was only able to use three because workers didn’t have the needed cables and plugs, Craig said. 

In order to use all of the generators in the future, the city still has to buy cables and plugs for the remaining 20 generators. It’s unclear how much that will cost.

The post-storm sewage issues could have been far worse had workers not manually rotated generators between the 129 city pumps to power them periodically, officials said.

There was at least one sewage backup, but city and state officials said the waste water was cleared before it reached any homes in the gated Rainberry Bay community along Lake Ida Road.

Other nearby cities didn’t have Delray’s sewage issues.

With the purchase of new generators, the city can better handle future storms and power outages, city leaders said.

Many residents were confused and frustrated by the city’s request to avoid draining water post-Irma.

“Nobody understood why they couldn’t flush their toilets,” Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said, calling for better communication during future storms.

The $2.1 million price tag did not sit well with some commissioners. Vice Mayor Jim Chard and Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson both voted against ratifying the purchase, even though it already went through last year.

Chard and Johnson asked for a “postmortem” report on the mistakes that followed Irma. 

The city is eligible and applied for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for the hefty generator purchase.