Pinellas County commissioners agreed Wednesday to form a countywide task force to work together on sewer and stormwater management issues.
The panel would be comprised of Pinellas County, 13 municipalities that have their own sewer systems, and three private systems.
“I believe the coming together of our partners can lay the groundwork for better reaction to emergencies, improving our infrastructure, and ultimately providing better services for our citizens,” Commissioner Charlie Justice wrote in a memo proposing the task force.
It is the second proposal for representatives from area governments to meet to discuss what’s needed to remedy Pinellas’ aging infrastructure.
Last week, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters called for the Pinellas legislative delegation to meet with county and municipal representatives to discuss possible solutions. The delegation is scheduled to meet Tuesday.
“Storm events over the last year have exposed ailing infrastructure needs across Pinellas County, given the number of sewer dumps by a majority of municipalities and the county,” Peters wrote in a letter asking for the meeting. “The problem is something that has been neglected for quite some time and I believe to be at a critical point for our entire county, putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk, as well as leaving lasting damage to our environment.”
Peters said she is hoping for two outcomes from the delegation meeting. The first would be an indication from the cities that they will actively look for ways to fix their systems and get on the road to doing it.
The other, she said, is to find out from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection exactly what the delegation and the state can do to help matters. The state can give loans, she said, but if legislation or another action is needed, delegation members need to know that. And cities need to hear what the state is allowed to do, she said.
Justice and Peters were reacting in part to flooding resulting from the massive rains dumped on Pinellas with the passing in the Gulf of Hurricane Hermine. The rains overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants, resulting in the dumping of partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay.
A report from the DEP indicates the county dumped about 29 million total gallons, along with St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Largo, and others.
Raw and partially treated water went into Boca Ciega Bay, Lake Seminole, Joe’s Creek, and irrigation canals, among other places.
It could have been worse, said Bill Breckinridge, assistant county administrator. The county, he said, brought in pumper trucks and managed to keep and additional 15.6 million gallons from overflowing.
Breckinridge said the problem is generally two-fold — the capacity to hold large amounts of water and the influx of rainwater into the sewage system because of aging pipes and simple seepage through manhole covers.
The county, St. Petersburg, Largo, and other cities have earmarked millions to repair and replace worn-out systems.
But, as County Administrator Mark Woodard said, “Looking at the problem in isolation will not solve the problem.”