JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville business has been reprimanded by the Duval County Department of Health after it was caught on camera dumping sewage illegally.
A letter of warning issued to Floaters Portable Sanitation on Sept. 16 was released to News4Jax on Friday by the county DOH. Floaters maintains that the situation is all a misunderstanding.
Floaters Portable Sanitation was found to have violated a Florida statute with "illegal dumping of septic holding tank waste water into a temporary RV Park dump station."
Legally, Floaters has 21 days to appeal the written reprimand, which warns the company that "this letter is being placed on your file" and that "this violation may be cited in any future complaint."
The News4Jax investigative team has been working for two months on the story of the illegal dumping and possible money owed to the city of Jacksonville.
The DOH confirmed Friday that its investigation began Aug. 11 after News4Jax took the health department photographic evidence obtained by a whistleblower, who gave that evidence to The Local Station.
The evidence shows a violation: several workers with Floaters Portable Sanitation offloading sewage from their trucks and port-a-potties through a hose at a dump station, which they weren't permitted to use, on a downtown Jacksonville property.
The source followed one of the company's trucks through downtown Jacksonville to the lot in question off Adams Street in Talleyrand. In the video, the truck can be seen parking with port-a-potties labeled with the Floaters company logo in tow in the same spot the source's hidden cameras captured Floaters employees taking steps to offload the untreated portable toilet waste down a drain more than a dozen other times.
The hidden camera time stamps show different trucks arriving on seven different days over a two-week period in July and August. Some of the time stamps show the trucks arriving before dawn.
"The evidence was brought to News4Jax, because something needed to be done about it," the source said. "It needed to stop, and they needed to pay the piper."
News4Jax has agreed to keep the source, who works in a similar industry, confidential until the investigation and appeals process are complete. He said he's concerned about being sued by Floaters for blowing the whistle.
The source told News4Jax that the issue was about a competitor but also about a concern for public health.
News4Jax took the evidence straight to the Duval County Department of Health in August.
"They are required to dump at an approved facility, so that facility was not approved for them for dumping," Scott Turner, the Environmental Director for the Florida Department of Health in Duval County said.
Technically, that makes the dumping illegal, Turner said.
Here's why: The Health Department confirms the privately owned lot in question has a permit for personal RVs to dump waste during special events, like the Georgia-Florida football game or Florida Country Superfest, but only for waste generated on that property. It is not permitted to ever allow waste from a commercial company like Floaters.
It's also not permitted for dumping any waste generated outside of a special event. There were no such events happening at the time the photos were taken.
The evidence captured Floaters dumping into an RV septic line that flows directly into one of JEA's sewer lines. JEA charges a fee to allow access to their sewer lines, and they confirm that they have no records on file to grant access to Floaters.
"That dump station is connected directly to JEA's sewer so there was not a direct impact to the environment," Turner said. "I do not believe they were paying for that sewer treatment. They were dumping there at no cost."
Turner admitted that such a move would save Floaters' company on overhead expenses.
JEA said it charges waste haulers that are permitted to use its facilities $44.90 per discharge at the Buckman Wastewater Treatment Facility. That fee is based on an average truck with 1,000 gallons of waste. With more than a dozen instances recorded on the video and photographic evidence, that could mean hundreds of dollars in unpaid fees to JEA.
A JEA representative said that if illegal activity is confirmed, the utility would consider taking steps to recoup the unpaid fees.
News4Jax attempted to contact Floaters for its side of the story for two months. The company issued a statement Friday, saying there was a misunderstanding between the health department and the person who owns the Talleyrand property with that dump site, and that the problem has been resolved.