Jack Latvala Archives - Page 5 of 30 - SaintPetersBlog

Jack Latvala says bill may put PSC over local utilities

State Sen. Jack Latvala, his chamber’s next budget chief, Friday said he might file legislation for next year to put municipal utilities under the supervision of the state’s Public Service Commission.

“I think you’re going to see a bill dealing with the municipalities that are currently not supervised by anybody above them, in terms of their (storm) preparedness, their rates,” he told reporters in Tallahassee.

The commission already oversees investor-owned utilities, including rate increase requests.

But the head of the organization representing municipal electric utilities said they already are well regulated by the cities they serve or by separate utility authorities.

Earlier this month, Latvala — a Clearwater Republican — said he was considering legislative action to address the City of Tallahassee’s response to Hurricane Hermine.

Specifically, he said he questions whether community-based power operations — such as City of Tallahassee Utilities — are positioned as well as they could be to recover after major storms.

Hermine, a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, knocked out electric service to hundreds of thousands across North Florida, including nearly 68,000 in Tallahassee alone. About 90 percent of customers had power restored in six days.  

Latvala used Vero Beach as an example, where he said 60 percent of utility customers live outside the city limits and don’t have a say in utility governance.

“There will very likely be some legislation that will … maybe put the municipals under the purview of the Public Service Commission,” he said. “Maybe the bill will just put emergency preparedness under the PSC. I don’t know yet.”

Barry Moline, director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said Kissimmee, Orlando, and Lakeland, for example, have put non-resident utility customers on their utility system’s governing boards.

Vero Beach has the same opportunity to do so and has so far declined, he said.

As to further oversight, Moline added that the PSC already regulates municipal utilities on “storm hardening” and when they seek to build new power plants.  

“And our rates are already regulated by local governments all over Florida,” he said.

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Jack Latvala backs business incentives, raises for state workers

State Sen. Jack Latvala told reporters Friday he would again support money in the state budget for business incentives and state worker pay raises.

“If we’re going to have economic development, and jobs are still the No. 1 thing on people’s minds, then we need to fund it,” he said after a medical marijuana press conference in Tallahassee. “I don’t know what the magic number is … we’ve got to see what we’ve got.”

The Clearwater Republican is in line to become Appropriations Committee chairman under Senate President Joe Negron. Last year, Latvala championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a $250 million business incentive fund that ultimately died by session’s end.

This week, Scott said he would ask lawmakers for $85 million in 2016-17 for Enterprise Florida for business incentives. The governor also said he plans to push legislation to restructure the public-private economic development organization.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, however, nixed the idea quickly.

“The House’s position on this issue has been clear,” he said in a tweet this week. “The government engaging in social engineering to pick winners and losers that benefit the 1 percent is a bad deal for Florida taxpayers. There will not be any corporate welfare in the House budget.”

When asked about Corcoran’s opposition, Latvala said, “I’m just saying what I support.”

“I think the House’s objection is philosophical,” he added. “I would hate to have to go through the budget and look at everything that we do that benefits a corporation or an individual that might also be considered corporate welfare.”

Latvala also called it his “highest personal priority, as a senator and as chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, to deliver some sort of pay raise for state employees.” State workers haven’t gotten an increase since 2006. 

“Now, I’m not going to get into how much, or how to do it, but I’ve had that conversation with (Negron, and he’s) well aware of where I’m coming from,” he said.

A stumbling block could be the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

Further, chief legislative economist Amy Baker earlier this month told lawmakers the current forecast “could be the good news” and later outlooks “may not be this good.”

“Sen. Latvala has always looked after state employees, including state law enforcement and correctional officers,” said Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, in a press release. “We appreciate him raising the awareness for this very important and much needed issue.”

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‘Reefer Madness’ returns to Tallahassee

The forces against this year’s medical marijuana initiative lined up a one-two punch Friday against the proposed state constitutional amendment.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell provided the legal jab, saying marijuana doesn’t belong in the state’s chief governing document. He addressed reporters at a press conference in Tallahassee.

“You create a fundamental right that the Legislature is very constrained in its ability to deal with in terms of any unintended consequences,” said Bell, a conservative who sat on the court from 2003-08. 

State Sen. Jack Latvala — the Clearwater Republican set to be Appropriations Committee chair — delivered the moral cross, saying enshrining marijuana in the constitution is just plain wrong.

“I want to be a little more personal,” Latvala said. “I don’t want this to come to Florida … I just see too many opportunities for abuse.”

Backers of the broader use of medical marijuana are trying again in 2016, after a similar amendment failed narrowly at the polls two years ago. The committee behind it is again called United for Care. 

After enjoying broad support, it only got 58 percent of the vote — just shy of the 60 percent required for passage of an amendment — after a negative ad campaign largely financed by Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

The latest amendment now is polling between 65-75 percent.

The initiative is again backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who has spent millions of dollars on the campaigns. Morgan has spoken publicly about his interest in the cause: His brother’s need for marijuana to ease crippling pain.

But the opposition continues to rally against what former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford called “the Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner.”

Florida already allows by statute the low-THC, or non-euphoric, marijuana, mostly for children with severe seizures and spasms, and the higher-THC strain approved this year for terminally ill patients.

But Latvala and others continue to raise concerns, for instance, that “Amendment 2 will bring kid-friendly pot candy to Florida,” a claim just rated “half true” by PolitiFact.

“I just think it’s wrong,” Latvala said. “I’m concerned that there won’t be the ability for local governments to regulate where these bud shops or pot shops are located … Most of all, we have no scientific evidence that there’s any medicinal value for marijuana.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse“the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.”

“However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana … has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain (those) chemicals in pill form. Continued research may lead to more medications,” its website adds. 

United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said in an email, “If the Legislature had done their job in the first place, Sen. Latvala wouldn’t have an amendment to oppose. They didn’t.

“The current law isn’t even being accessed by many of the families it was narrowly written to help,” Pollara said. “If Sen. Latvala is displeased that this issue is now before voters as a constitutional amendment, perhaps he should reflect on why the Legislature failed to enact the people’s will.”

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia “now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration, however, has given guidance to federal prosecutors to not charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

The No on 2 campaign’s website is here. The website for the organization behind this year’s amendment is here.

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Florida Farm Bureau-Pinellas endorses four Republicans for State House

The Florida Farm Bureau-Pinellas has endorsed four Republicans running for re-election to the state House of Representatives.

Reps. Chris Latvala, House District 67, and Larry Ahern, HD 66, received contribution checks from Farm Bureau-Pinellas board members Leslie Waters and Fred Petty during the group’s annual dinner earlier this month. Waters is mayor of Seminole and Petty is the former Pinellas County tax collector.

Kathleen Peters, HD 69, and Chris Sprowls, HD 65, also received campaign contributions.

“These state legislators have always been supportive of legislative agriculture issues, and we on the Farm Bureau Board-Pinellas appreciate that,” Waters said.

Latvala, son of state Sen. Jack Latvala, is facing a challenge from Democrat David Vogel. Sprowls is running against Bernard “Bernie” FensterwaldJennifer Webb is challenging Peters. Opposing Ahern is Lorena Grizzle, daughter of Mary Grizzle, who served in both the state House and Senate.

The Florida Farm Bureau says it is the voice of Florida agriculture with a mission “to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life.”

The group says its policy positions reflect the values and opinions of most Floridians: “We support creating opportunities for private enterprise, limited government, and incentive-based regulatory standards. Florida Farm Bureau also upholds a commitment to traditional family life and volunteer community service,” according to the website.

The election is Nov. 8.

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Jack Latvala to FDOT: Don’t turn lanes on Howard Frankland into toll roads

State Sen. Jack Latvala on Monday wrote to the Florida Department of Transportation objecting to any plan to start charging tolls on current lanes of the Howard Frankland bridge.

Latvala was reacting to recent news that state officials plan to take one of the four existing lanes in each direction on the bridge and charge tolls. Until recently, local officials understood the plan, which is part of a wider highway expansion proposal known as the Tampa Bay Express, was to add new lanes to the bridge. Those new lanes would be tolled.

Instead, FDOT planned to reduce the non-toll lanes in each direction from four to three and charge a fluctuating rate for the use of the toll lane. Latvala objects to the idea, saying it will make the commute across Tampa Bay even longer for those who can’t, or won’t, pay the toll.

Latvala’s letter to Paul Steinman, FDOT district secretary:

“I write you today with great concern about any notion or idea to take current lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge and turn them into toll lanes. This would be an immediate impediment to creating a business environment uniting the entire Tampa Bay region. With the Howard Frankland Bridge reaching its end of serviceable years, now is not the time to take current lanes and collect tolls from my constituents who use the bridge to get to work and do not want to have their commute times increased.

“In discussions with previous secretaries from the Department of Transportation, they assured me that if express lanes with tolls were to be implemented, they would be new lanes, not taking already existing lanes and designating them as express lanes.

“This pay-to-commute-efficiently concept is counterintuitive to creating a friendly business environment for the greater Tampa Bay Region and is a proposal to which I believe my constituents stand firmly opposed. I urge you to reconsider any proposals creating tollways using current lanes and to instead, wait until additional capacity is constructed to consider that idea.”

howard-frankland

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In first video ad, Jennifer Webb slams special interests

Jennifer Webb vows in her first video ad of the campaign season to fight the special interests she says are dominating Tallahassee.

“For too long, big special interests have gotten their way in Tallahassee and we’re paying the price,” Webb says in the 30-second spot.

Examples flash on the screen: “Duke Energy customers will pay $108 million a year for canceled nuclear plants” and “Teco, Duke Energy get electrical rate increases.”

Also flashing on the screen are Webb’s campaign promises: To take on special interests, protect drinking water, oppose fracking and stop Duke’s utility tax.

“Let’s put the people of Pinellas first,” Webb concludes.

Webb, a Democrat, is making her first run for public office against HD 69 incumbent Kathleen Peters.

Thus far, Peters is outdistancing Webb in fundraising. In the period from Sept. 3—16, Peters brought in $26,418.25. Of that, $10,118.25 came from the Republican Party of Florida. Peters has an overall total of $256,543.66.

Peters has another fundraiser scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. hosted by fellow Republican Sen. Jack Latvala and Frank Chivas. The event is at Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Road.

During that same period, Webb received $18,775 in donations for a grand total of $107,755.46.

Webb and Peters are facing off in two debates this week.

The first is at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at a Tiger Bay luncheon. They’ll be featured with other candidates for the state House — Republican incumbents Chris Latvala (HD 67) and Larry Ahern. Democrat Lorena Grizzle, who is opposing Ahern for the HD 66 seat, will also be speaking. Latvala’s opponent David Vogel has said he will not be there.

The second faceoff between Webb and Peters is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Operation PAR, 13800 66th St. N on the 3rd floor. Topics include policies and funding for mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.

 

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Clearwater Chamber announces local endorsements; virtual tie between Charlie Justice, Mike Mikurak

clearwater-regional-chamber-of-commerceClearwater’s Chamber of Commerce announced endorsements in several local races, and a virtual tie between two equally qualified candidates for a Pinellas County Commission seat.

In a statement Friday, CLEARPAC, the committee for the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber’s board of directors, made recommendations based on “the importance of Election Day to the continuing success of local business.”

CLEARPAC is endorsing Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala for re-election to Senate District 20, as well as Republican State Reps. Chris Sprowls (House District 65), Larry Ahern (HD 66), Chris Latvala (HD 67) and Kathleen Peters (HD 69).

For the Pinellas County School Board, the group is also backing Matthew Stewart in District 1 and Carol Cook in District 5.

As for the tie, CLEARPAC said that in the race for Pinellas County Commission District 3, both candidates were qualified. Incumbent Democrat Charlie Justice “has consistently stood up for the business community,” whereas Republican challenger Mike Mikurak has “an extensive business background and a keen understanding of the challenges that businesses both large and small face.”

With that race, voters are on their own; CLEARPAC suggests further research on both candidates in the District 3 race.

A retired businessman, Mikurak is a founding partner of Accenture, a global consulting firm specializing in strategy and technology. The New Jersey native is making his first run for public office, facing Justice for the at-large District 3 seat.

“CLEARPAC is pleased to support the above slate of candidates who best understand the importance of maintaining a pro-business environment and who are willing to collaborate in order to advance public policy that allows our businesses to prosper, grow and create new jobs,” said CLEARPAC chair Judy Mitchell.

Founded in 1922, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce has become the voice of business in the Clearwater region, representing more than 1,000 member businesses. Since then, The CRCC has become 1 of the largest chambers in the Tampa Bay region.

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Sandy Murman takes a victory lap on approval of $600 million in transportation improvements

Although Sandy Murman considers the $600 million in funding for transportation improvements over the next decade that her County Commission colleagues recently approved as a weaker version of her original proposal, she doesn’t mind taking credit for it.

“I will tell you, and I’m being very honest. If it hadn’t been for me bringing my new plan forward, we would not have $600 million in transportation approved a couple of weeks ago,” she said Friday morning.

Murman’s comment at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” event at Hugo’s in Tampa’s Hyde Park generated applause among the approximately 20 people in attendance.

Murman’s original proposal, formed in the wake of the Board of County Commission’s rejection of the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum, called for dedicating one-third of any growth in property and sales taxes to transportation, which would have raised approximately $800 million for road repairs and other fixes over the next decade.

“I didn’t get it,” she says about the board’s refusal to get completely behind her proposal.

They ultimately coalesced around the alternative $600 million proposed by Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

Murman had served as the BOCC’s chair for several years but was stripped of her position November shortly after she first spoke out against supporting the Go Hillsborough Plan and offered up her alternative transportation plan.

The proposal was mocked critically, but months later, the board would ultimately twice reject putting the transportation referendum on the ballot.

The Davis Islands Republican addressed a multitude of issues in her hourlong appearance before the weekly Friday morning club, but she spent considerable time on transportation.

First elected to the board in 2010, she is running for re-election again this fall for the District 1 seat, where she faces Democrat Jeff Zampitella in November.

 Murman repeated something that she has said since she came out against the Go Hillsborough plan: that there will still be a need in the coming years for the board to put a transportation referendum on the ballot, but work needs to be done before getting there. “I think you do them when you’re ready.”

“We will never have enough money in our current budget … to answer the need for this growing community,” she added. Hillsborough County is expected to increase by over 300,000 people in the next five years. “We will have to make an investment at some point.”

Murman serves on the HART board, and she says she actually is one such member who supports the proposal first offered four years ago by Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala to combine Hillsborough’s transit agency with its equivalent in Pinellas, PSTA.

“I think a regional system makes sense. I think for any investment the public makes into transit, regional is where we need to be focused, to make it cost effective.” She also supports a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We’ve got to start thinking smarter.”

Referring to Latvala’s elevation to Appropriations Chairman and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes continued role as Senate Transportation head, Murman said now is the time for Tampa Bay state lawmakers to bring home some of the bacon that for far too long has gone to other major metropolitan areas of Florida.

Referring to her eight years (1996-2004) in the Florida House, Murman said, “I watched the Brinks truck pull up from Miami and Orlando and loaded it up with the money to go back to those communities. And they are much further ahead than we are.”

Murman says she wants to address the county’s land-use and affordable housing policies next year, saying that creating more incentives for developers will go a long way to improving both those items. She says she will propose a checklist that every single development going forward to check on how it will affect transportation and schools.

And Murman says that unless incentives are given to developers to create affordable housing units, it simply won’t happen. “If we don’t get it done, we’re not going to get it done, and this community will still be lost in its policies going forward,” she grimly forecast.

Regarding the controversial Public Transportation Commission, like most local Republicans, she says she’d like to see it abolished, though emphasized that she did not want the BOCC to replace it as a regulatory body.

While Murman said she championed small businesses in the county, one member of the audience challenged her, referring to the BOCC’s approving a $6.25 million subsidy to lure a Bass Pro Shops chain store to the county in 2013. That subsidy was an issue put front and center by Democrat Pat Kemp in her ultimately unsuccessful election bid against Al Higginbotham in 2014. Murman expressed zero regrets for her vote, saying that the county’s return on investment will come back within three years.

And she stated that there are plenty of incentive programs to help small businesses.

On a proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, Murman was emphatic: “If you’re going to use any public dollars at all, there has to be a level of transparency so the public can be assured that we’re not going to get into a situation like we did with Go Hillsborough, where things were too left behind the scenes.”

She added that she had “trust and faith” in the leadership of the Rays to do things “in a very clean way.” Murman agreed with 83 Degrees editor Diane Egner that if public dollars are being spent on the facility, it should have a component to it that allows the public to use it, and suggested sports medicine or magnet school on the property.

Former County Commissioner Ed Turnanchik, who was in the audience, said that back in the 90s when he served on the board, it the board ended up being involved in funding Raymond James Stadium, Steinbrenner Field and Amalie Arena, and said that wasn’t a priority any longer.

“I can’t see spending one dime of general revenue on a baseball stadium when traffic conditions are like they’re in SoHo,” he said, “it’s just not a priority to use general revenues.”

Although several people clapped in support, another audience member disagreed and said that a downtown stadium that runs near CSX lines would be the best location. Murman said she agreed, adding she also likes the possibility of building a park in the Westshore area.

 

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Jack Latvala: Water quality is a business issue

Environmentalists shouldn’t be the only ones sounding the alarm when it comes to Florida’s water quality concerns.

Instead, Sen. Jack Latvala said all of the state’s stakeholders need to work together to address the issues affecting Florida’s water.

“It’s not just (environmentalists). It’s not just the white hats with petitions and protests,” said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and the incoming chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. “These are business issues. If we allow those (resources) to be desecrated in any way … that’s not going to help keep people coming to Florida, whether it’s as tourists or whether it’s as residents. Everyone needs to be invested.”

Latvala gave the business community and environmental experts a peek into the 2017-18 budget process during the 2016 Florida Water Forum with hosted by Associated Industries of Florida. The annual event is a chance for elected officials, the business community and other policy leaders to come together to discuss ongoing water issues.

The most recent estimates from leave Florida with about $7.5 million leftover out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue in 2017-18. And while lawmakers have stressed there isn’t’ a revenue shortage, recent estimates don’t leave a lot of wiggle room for those hoping to get projects funded.

But Latvala said he expects lawmakers will advocate for projects to improve Florida’s water quality. And Senate President Designate Joe Negron has already said water will be a top priority during his two-year term.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, has said he plans to push for money to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee. His $2.4 billion plan includes buying 60,000 acres to build a reservoir to clean and send water into the Everglades, instead of down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

His proposal included bonding $100 million over 20 years to generate the state’s $1.2 billion share. Under his plan, the remaining costs would be picked up by the federal government.

Latvala said Negron talked to him about the proposal before going public, and said he expects it will be a “multi-faceted program” that would also include efforts to move residents off septic systems.

Gov. Rick Scott has already said he would include money in his proposed budget to help encourage residents near the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River to switch from septic.

“We have to have water that’s drinkable and water that doesn’t smell bad I we want to have tourists keep coming in and funding our budget,” said Latvala.

But water quality issues in the Indian River Lagoon — where algae clogged the waterways and temporarily close South Florida beaches — aren’t the only concerns. He pointed to a recent sewage spill in Tampa Bay, where more than 250 million gallons of sewage flowed into the bay.

“I can’t think of a time in history since I’ve been involved in the Senate that we’ve had so many crisis effecting water as we have today,” he said.

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Lawmakers learn Pinellas is responsible for half of Florida’s wastewater overflow this year

Lack of capacity, deteriorating sewer lines, broken equipment, and an immense amount of rain are to blame for overwhelmed sewer systems that have dumped more than 248 million gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay and other Pinellas waterways so far this year.

Kathleen Peters
Kathleen Peters

Those explanations, provided to the county’s legislative delegation during a fact-finding session Tuesday, did not sit well with at least one delegation member.

“I get frustrated when I hear excuses and I hear climate change,” state Rep. Kathleen Peters said.

Some cities, she said, had neglected their duty to keep up with infrastructure improvements. As an example, Peters referred to the Penny for Pinellas. That tax, she said, was to improve infrastructure, yet very few projects had to do with improving cities’ sewer systems. In a county that worries about tropical weather and potential hurricanes, making sure wastewater and storm water systems were ready for such rain events should have been an easy call. Instead, the money went elsewhere.

“I don’t want to hear excuses anymore,” Peters said, adding that she wasn’t making her statements “to attack anyone.”

Peters made her statements toward the end of a special delegation meeting called for members to hear why the county, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Largo had overflows during the Hurricane Hermine. The meeting is the first of at least two. The delegation plans to meet again in 60 days to hear from the public and to get a progress report and more details from the county and the cities.

The sheer magnitude of the various overflows came into sharp focus when Mary Yeargen, the southwest district director for the state Department of Environmental Protection, laid out the numbers.

In 2014, the entire state of Florida saw 137 million gallons of overflow; in 2015, the state amount was 151 gallons; so far this year, the statewide overflow is about 262 million gallons. So far this year, Pinellas County has had overflows totaling more than 248 million gallons.

More than half the wastewater discharge for the entire state of Florida so far this year, came from Pinellas County, she said.

“We don’t want to see this happen again,” Yeargen said.

Jack LatvalaOfficials from the county and all three cities said they have projects in place to improve and expand their wastewater systems. But it’s not a quick fix. Many of the improvements will take years to get into place.

And, they said, fixing the publicly owned pipes is just part of the problem. A lot of the problem comes from so-called lateral pipes — the ones that run from peoples’ homes and businesses to the street where they meet the government-owned pipes.

Many of those lateral pipes have deteriorated and allow rainwater to flow into the sewer system, which helps cause the system to become overwhelmed.

Irvin Kety, Largo’s environmental services director, estimated inflow from those privately owned lateral pipes was responsible for up to half of the rainwater incursion that causes many of the problems. While Largo is improving its system, unless the privately owned pipes are fixed, “we’re still going to have overflow,” Kety said.

“We’ve got to get a handle on those private systems,” Kety said.

Rick-Kriseman   George CretekosThe problem is, the cities can’t go on private property and fix privately owned pipes. Homeowners will have to foot those bills. Kety said it’s hard to estimate what that might cost. It depends on the length of the pipe, whether it has to replaced, and whether it’s under a concrete drive. But, he said, a ballpark figure could put the cost at $2,000 to $3,000.

State Sen. Jack Latvala suggested cities might pass an ordinance requiring homeowners to get the lateral lines evaluated before they sell their homes.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he had given a sample ordinance to the city attorney for consideration. That could come before the St. Petersburg City Council.

Both he and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos suggested the delegation could help pass a statute or set up a rebate or loan program to help homeowners pay for the repairs.

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