An open sewer pipe at a Del Rey condominium complex near Ballona Creek led to the closure of two local beaches and heightened anxiety for several residents who complained that their homeowners association board did not respond quickly enough to the sewage spill.

Several city and county agencies were dispatched Sunday, April 27th, to Marina Gateway Condominiums, at 5000 S. Centinela Ave., to contain the spill, which entered a storm drain at nearby Ballona Creek and found its way into the ocean, forcing the closure of a half mile of Venice and Dockweiler beaches.

“We were notified late Sunday afternoon about the incident,” said Eric Edwards, chief environmental health specialist for the county’s Department of Public Health Water Quality Program. “We then took the precaution of closing the beach a half a mile north of Ballona Creek toward Venice Beach and a half a mile south of Ballona Creek toward Dockweiler Beach.”

The Los Angeles Department of Public Works also responded, as did the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the department’s Hazardous Materials Unit, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the county Department of Health Services.

An estimated 8,700 gallons of raw sewage entered the ocean.

“Our specialists are taking several samples of the water to determine the level of bacteria in the water,” said Edwards.

“We are asking people to avoid entering or swimming in the ocean in the area immediately surrounding Ballona Creek,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health and county health officer. “Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of the people who visit the beach and water areas. Once we determine bacteria levels in the water have returned to normal, we will remove the beach advisory.”

A resident of the condominium complex alleges that a handyman hired by the association and the complex’s management company, Bowker and Roth Property Management in Mission Hills, removed a sewer pipe cap Saturday, April 26th, after homeowners at the complex complained to the board of directors about unpleasant odors from a sewer line Friday, April 25th.

In the course of fixing the plumbing problem in order to prevent a sewage backup of two units, residents alleged to The Argonaut that a sewer pipe cap was taken off the complex’s private drainage line, allowing raw sewage from the sewer line to find its way into a storm drain within the complex.

Stephanie Interiano, a spokeswoman for the city Bureau of Sanitation, said that an investigation into the cause of the spill was ongoing, although she said the bureau’s crew indicated that the spill appeared to come from the building’s pipe.

“Our crew found that a plumber hired by the condominium’s management company had been working on a private lateral pipe at the condominium and was unable to contain the blockage,” said Interiano. “Our crew responded immediately to the location and was able to contain and clean out the blockage.”

Interiano said that the city workers installed a bypass on the city’s sewer line that is connected to the condominium’s pipe to prevent any more sewage from entering into the waterways.

“Once our inspection is completed and if it’s determined that it was not the city’s sewer line, we will notify the county health department,” said Interiano.

The bypass will not be a permanent solution to the condominium’s plumbing problem. The board of directors will be faced with repairing and sealing the line at its expense if it is determined to be the source of the sewage spill.

The LAPD Hazardous Materials Unit responded after county authorities were contacted two days later, on March 27th, and the building was cordoned off while the various governmental agencies set about investigating the spill.

Del Rey Neighborhood Council president Mark Redick, a hotel executive who at one time worked with Chem-Care, a waste management and disposal service, worries that this incident may not occur in a vacuum, due to previous problems with spillage into Ballona Creek.

“Part of the problem is that Ballona Creek has not been immune to these types of spills in the past,” he said. “Without any mitigating measures, this could very well happen again.”

Sgt. Mark Hurley of LAPD’s Hazardous Materials Unit had not responded to phone calls for comment for this story at Argonaut press time.

The Argonaut also attempted to contact the president of the board of directors at Marina Gateway Condominiums, Alan Kottick, and the property manager, Joseph Dabovich. Neither Kottick nor Dabovich had responded to phone calls for comment as The Argonaut went to press.

Both Venice and Dockweiler beaches were expected to be reopened by Wednesday, April 30th.

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