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1M gallons of sewage spill into Westside creek

Residents report foul odor, sludge in Wills Branch of Cedar River

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One million gallons of raw sewage spilled into Wills Branch waterway of the Cedar River on the city's Westside this week, according to JEA. 

Residents in the Hyde Park area reported there was a foul odor coming from the Wills Branch Creek and a thick sludge on top of the water.

The city-owned utility said the spill occurred this week because of a blockage at a lift station on Lenox Avenue. JEA has posted pollution notices in the area, warning people to stay away from the water. 

Robert Reilly was one of the first people to notice the spill, which occurred about two miles away from his home. He said it wasn't hard to notice because it smells so bad and the creek behind his home is cloudy and covered with raw sewage.

"This happened back when we had the hurricane. They lost power over there and it backed up and did the same thing. So that's when I called," Reilly told News4Jax on Thursday. 

But the spill is different than when pump stations failed during Hurricane Matthew in October. JEA said the spill was not caused by any power outage, but because, somehow, a huge amount of electrical wiring and a bunch of rags and wipes became caught in a sanitary sewer line. 

I-TEAM: Why did JEA lift stations leak sewage during storm?

Officials said they now know how it got there, but the problem was they weren't able to retrieve it -- it actually went further into the system, which is dangerous. 

Instead of freeing the wire clogged in the pipe, it actually went down into the sewer pit -- and officials don't know where it is in the sewer pit. They're afraid it could have moved into the entire system, so JEA would have to send somebody down to retrieve it. In the past, the gases and everything inside the sewer pit has proved to be dangerous, which is why officials are worried about that. 

JEA pointed to an accident in the Florida Keys where three utility workers died last January while working in a confined area and they were overcome by sewage fumes. That's why JEA is being very careful about the incident on the Westside, and staff said it points out the problems when items and materials -- such as rags and wipes that some people flush down toilets -- end up in the sewage system that should never be there.

But they said this week's issue was much more than that. 

"Makes me wonder if construction companies were dumping illegally or something like that," Reilly said. 

There is also a lot of sewage work going on in the neighborhood as JEA upgrades the system, but the utility doesn't think the spill is related to that. 

Even though it was not caused by a power failure like the massive spills during the hurricane, JEA is also working to make sure that does not happen again. It has a plan to add more generators to lift stations, which the board will vote on soon.