Government waste? Marco councilor calls for end of inefficient filter

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Marco Island City Councilor Sam Young

Marco Island City Councilor Sam Young's election campaign centered around addressing water quality and being a better steward of taxpayer dollars so when it came time to present some of his findings during a workshop Monday night, he couldn't hide his true feelings.

Asking and answering his own questions about whether it constituted good use of taxpayer money, Young blasted the public works department and called for the end of its use of Suntree filters after showing how the city failed to properly install and maintain the filters.

"There have been no benefits that are measurable in terms of water quality improvement because of these Suntree filters that we've spent probably $2 million dollars so far," Young said.

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The graded inlet filters are placed in concrete boxes and are an approved method for improving water quality.

The problems Young showed, however, were that many of the filters have not been installed properly or maintained, thus making them completely inefficient.

In supplemental materials prepared by Young, he said that the city began purchasing the filters in 2006 though it was not done so through council approval.

With more than 1,300 filters, which cover two-thirds of Marco Island, it makes Marco Island the largest consumer per capita of filters than any other municipality in the state. 

Through 2018, the city has also used more than $731,000 in grant funding for purchase and maintenance, which is required quarterly but not done on Marco Island.

Performing a random sampling of different filter boxes around the city, Young found and documented the city's failures.

A random sampling of the locations of Suntree filters on Marco Island found them not be installed properly or maintained as directed.

Many of concrete boxes were too large for the baskets or had cutouts in the side, allowing stormwater flow to completely bypass the filter baskets.

Others were missing boom filters and showed no signs of receiving any maintenance.

As for what was found in the actual filters, Young said there was very little as the majority of the organic waste and sediment the city vacuums was beneath the filter boxes.

"It's impeding water flow, serves no value and is a waste of money," Young said. "Just because we screwed up doesn't mean we can't correct it. Just get rid of it."

With a large number of filters used on the island, Young said it was difficult for such a small public works staff to perform the necessary upkeep and required a third-party contractor to do so at a higher cost.

Public Works Director Tim Pinter said the city did not pay any money last year for maintaining the filters because a third party contractor was paid through FEMA reimbursement as a result of Hurricane Irma.

Young, however, questioned the use of that money given the results.

"Question is could that FEMA money have been spent wisely elsewhere?" Young said. "I think the answer is yes."

In calling for the city to end its use of the filters, Young suggested the city allocate the money budgeted for them to fund increased water quality testing.

He also suggested various improvements the city could make to swale and curb drains to aid in preventing materials from seeping into the canals.

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