Protestors fight sewage work at Theater of the Sea

Sewer line leaks could endanger rescued animals

Published On: Jan 13 2014 05:39:54 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 14 2014 02:07:24 PM EST
ISLAMORADA, Fla. -

As Florida Keys leaders work to switch the islands from septic to a sewer system, burying those long lines of plastic pipe has caused quite the commotion at one marine park.

Local 10 went to Islamorada to find out how some fear that burying the new sewer line could actually be burying the marine life at 'Theater of the Sea,' a tradition that's been around for nearly 75 years.

Well-known as a Keys destination spot -- the marine mammal park is home to dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, endangered species and rescued animals, according to curator Beverly Osborne. But many are now worried that sea life could be in danger.

"The culvert pipe right there, it sticks out about eight foot," said vet tech Melissa Jaroneski. "They are digging underneath our water supply source for the sewer line."

Vet techs and trainers stood on the side of the Overseas Highway, holding signs and protesting the sewer line replacement.

The toxic line is now close to the unique way of feeding the park's lake system of salt water.

"We're worried there are going to be pathogens released into our water system that could potentially harm our animals," said Jaroneski.

"If the sewer line leaks, people can be told not to drink their water, the dolphins cannot be told not to live in this water," Osborne said.

The park is home to eight dolphins and three acres of fresh saltwater that is pumped in from the ocean that has never needed to be treated.

"It's like a lake," Osborne said. "How do you treat that much water? We would have to look into that, but we don't have that time now."

As 6,500 gallons rush into the park every single minute, construction continues, making room for the pipe to be buried 15 feet below the channel, running 375 feet long.

"What we really wish to do is improve the quality of the water that 'theater of the sea' is going to be receiving, not harm it," said Islamorada Village Manager Ed Koconis.

Koconis was hired to build and run the state mandated sewer system in Islamorada.

"What happens if there is a break, a mistake, a leak?" asked Koconis. "If there is, the contract states that they would be responsible. It is their design and they are the party. Now, of course, we still don't want that to happen, it's still very bad, but they would be accountable."

That's not quite the answer the workers at the park want to hear, but the building is moving forward, regardless of sea lions, dolphins or the people picketing.

"We are at the mercy of the sewage line now, forever. This isn't going to go away," Osborne said.

The project has a completion deadline of 2015. The burying of lines below water crossings has been determined to be the safest method. It's already been done at the Tavernier Creek bridge. 

As for the park, they plan to conduct daily water testing as a backup plan.