Three environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging the city of Gulfport is in violation of the Clean Water Act for discharging raw sewage and other pollutants into Clam Bayou and Tampa and Boca Ciega bays without a permit.
They are asking, among other things, that the judge levy civil fines against Gulfport of up to $37,500 per day per violation for violations occurring from Jan. 12, 2009, to Nov. 2, 2015. They’re also asking for civil penalties of up to $51,570 per day per violation for violations occurring after Nov. 2, 2015, and assessed on or after Aug. 1.
Justin Bloom, the Sarasota attorney representing the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment. Gulfport City Manager James O’Reilly declined to comment, saying he had not seen the lawsuit yet.
The plaintiffs — Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation — said they are suing because of numerous spills.
“Since Oct. 28, 2011, Gulfport has repeatedly spilled raw and partially treated sewage from its,” the suit alleges. Such overflows, it says, “have repeatedly spilled from Gulfport sewer lines, manholes, pump stations, and various other equipment/conveyances that are part of the” wastewater collection system.
The overflows “harm Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and other water bodies, streams, or tributaries in or adjoining Gulfport and pose a significant risk to fisheries, wildlife habitat, and human health,” the suit says.
The lawsuits list those harmful effects. Among them “human waste, viruses, protozoa, mold spores and bacteria that are known pathogens that cause disease in humans and wildlife. The human waste … contain nutrients that increase the risk of algae blooms known as ‘red tides’ that are toxic to fish and cause skin and respiratory irritation in sensitive members of the human population.”
The overflows and discharges, the suit says, can be traced to infiltration and inflow from an aging and defective sewer system. Infiltration and inflow happen when a sewer system allows in rainwater or groundwater that would otherwise be excluded. The rain or groundwater gets in through leaky or broken pipes or faulty manhole covers. If a sewer system allows such infiltration and inflow, it can easily become overburdened with rainwater during periods of heavy rains or storms.
In Gulfport’s case, the defective system that allows infiltration and inflow burdens not only the city’s system but has a domino effect down the line as the water moves elsewhere. St. Petersburg receives the brunt of that, the suit says, because that city is responsible for handling Gulfport’s wastewater.
“By failing to prevent infiltration and inflow from Gulfport’s defective [wastewater collection system] from flooding St. Petersburg’s [treatment plants] and overloading the system during wet weather events, Gulfport causes or contributes to [overflows] throughout the [entire system],” the suit says.