Mills Avenue apartment complex continues to flood neighborhood, lakes with raw sewage

Fla. Department of Environmental Protection orders overhaul of sewage pumping station

ORLANDO, Fla. – At least eight times raw sewage has spilled onto the front lawn of Bob Nelson’s home along the busy Orlando Urban Trail, the streets surrounding Mills Park and near Lake Formosa.

Officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it has received six reports of spills from The Gallery at Lake Mills’ private lift station since Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“Mills Park has been a big improvement,” Nelson said. “We have restaurants and shops, but now we have the sewage issue and I’d really like to get that resolved. Sure it’s a sore spot. Nobody likes having sewage running the street in front of their house, nobody likes having to run through sewage. I go out here and jog just about every morning and one thing you don’t like to see is sewage streaming across the trail.”

Nelson said the privately-owned lift station is responsible for pumping sewage from much of the Mills Park complex, including The Gallery apartments, out to the city sewer.

When it fails, sewage gurgles out of holding tanks.

“The failures have typically been a breakage inside of the valve box, or in some cases, the pumps don’t turn on,” Nelson said. “It runs down the driveway, across the Urban Trail, into the street, down into the storm drains.”

Nelson said the most irritating part of the repetitive sewage spills is that most walkers and joggers don’t realize it’s sewage.

“There’s no real way of discerning that it’s sewage without a close inspection,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t really have a strong odor, it doesn’t really have any distinctive characteristics ... but by and large, most people don’t even know that they’re walking through sewage. I’ve seen people walk right down here, walk their dogs through sewage, and I tell them try to avoid that and they say it can’t be sewage, that would be illegal, can’t be done.”

Dog walker Ruth Bristow said she didn’t realize the wet spots -- the most recent spill was last week -- were actually raw sewage.

“I’ve always thought it was just leftover rain, things like that because it’s so humid and rainy here,” Bristow said. “I had no idea that that was happening, and I walk here every day.”

On Nov. 26, the Florida DEP sent a warning letter to Mills Park Commercial Owners Association Inc, based in Tampa, after the sewage spill on Nov. 21.

The DEP lists Peter Collins as the director of the association.

Collins did not return repeated emails and phone calls from News 6 on Monday.

Orlando City spokesperson Karyn Barber said the privately-owned lift station in Mills Park is permitted and regulated by the Florida DEP.

“In response to the spill, the cleanup was completed by the private contractor hired by the lift station owner,” Barber said. “The city monitored and tested the lakes and stormwater systems in the impacted areas. A Lake Alert was issued immediately following the spill and was lifted on Nov. 27, 2019. The city has fined the lift station owner for each incident and will again issue the $1,250 fine for violation of city code.”

Ashley Gardner, a DEP spokesperson, said the DEP is requiring Mills Park Commercial Owners Association Inc. to upgrade many of the components of its lift station to prevent further spills.

“As a result of the previous spills, the Department entered into a Consent Order with Mills Park on Sept. 26, 2019,” Gardner said. “Accordingly, the Department will hold the facility accountable to complying with its terms and ensuring they meet the deadline of Feb. 23, 2020 to complete all necessary improvements to the lift station. Should the facility not comply within the associated timeframes, the Department will consider additional enforcement actions, including penalties.”

Gardner said the DEP will be “pursuing enforcement” for the spill on Nov. 21 and will be “asking the facility to provide analysis on how the city of Orlando’s infrastructure may be affecting their private lift station.”

A spokesperson for Greystar, the management company that runs The Gallery at Mills Park, said the management company is just as frustrated by the spills as the residents it serves. She said Greystar does not own the lift station and receives limited communication from Mills Park Commercial Owners Association Inc. when seeking assistance.

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