Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 7 of 41 - SaintPetersBlog

Rick Kriseman accuses governor of playing politics with the sewage issue

Gov. Rick Scott is guilty of political grandstanding when calling for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate sewage overflows in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is already involved in this issue,” Kriseman said in a written statement. “And given that the governor is singling out St. Petersburg and ignoring the actions of governments across our region, we have to chalk this up to politics.”

Kriseman was reacting to the news that Scott had issued a news release saying he’d directed the DEP to investigate recent sewage discharges into Tampa Bay.

Scott directed the Florida Department of Health Tuesday to perform additional testing in the immediate area of the spill.

Scott’s statement came a day after members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation berated Kriseman at a “fact-finding” session.

Some delegation members pelted Kriseman with questions about why the Albert Whitted sewage facility was closed down a year before it was required, under a consent order with DEP, to do so.

The closure of Albert Whitted and the subsequent diversion of the wastewater to the Southwest plant, which lacked the capacity to handle the flow resulting from recent torrential rains, caused much of the overflow.

Claude Tankersley, St. Petersburg’s public works administrator, said Albert Whitted was in the process of being dismantled because bringing it up to standard would have been cost prohibitive. A study made around 2011-12, he said, indicated that Southwest had the capacity to handle the wastewater.

After Albert Whitted was closed, equipment that was still usable was removed and used elsewhere.

Delegation members asked about a 2014 report that indicated Southwest lacked the capacity to handle wastewater in the case of heavy rain.

Kriseman said neither he nor St. Petersburg council members knew of that report until earlier this month when Craven Askew, a whistleblower, brought it to their attention. The Mayor said he had asked for an investigation into the situation.

On Wednesday, the same day Scott issued his orders, Kriseman suspended two midlevel water resources employees.

But delegation members also heard from Mary Yeargen, the southwest district director of the DEP, who spoke, among other things, of the requirements for cities to report overflows and discharges. Yeargen said the DEP is also working on arriving at another consent order with St. Petersburg to set deadlines for improvements to the city’s wastewater and stormwater systems.

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David Jolly offers protection to whistleblowers on St. Pete sewer spill

In addition to asking the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis, David jolly is now offering whistleblower protection to anyone with information about the city wastewater spills.

Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Indian Shores Republican has been working with Craven Askew, the plant operator who warned the city about shutting down the Albert Whitted wastewater treatment facility.

That closure led to the Northwest wastewater plant spilling nearly 60 million gallons of partially treated water into Tampa and Boca Ciega Bays as well as the watersheds of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties after Hurricane Hermine struck Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier this month.

Askew has also called into question statements from the administration of St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman downplaying the public health risk from the spills.

According to a statement from Jolly’s office, the congressman is “encouraging any city employees with information about the St. Petersburg sewage spills to come forward to his office for assistance with whistleblower protection. It is clear that the community will only benefit from greater transparency – transparency that may only be possible through increased employee protections.”

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Rick Kriseman suspends two city directors in wake of sewer tangle

Rick Kriseman
Rick Kriseman

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has placed two mid-level city employees on unpaid leave in the wake of allegations that city officials knew that closing the Albert Whitted sewer facility could cause flooding.

Kriseman said he plans to address the City Council on Thursday about the status of an independent review, the management study of the water resources department, and the plan for the two directors.

Kriseman made the announcement in a short release Wednesday:

“Mayor Rick Kriseman has placed water resources director Steve Leavitt on unpaid administrative leave. Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley has named John Palenchar the interim water resources director.

“Mayor Kriseman has also placed engineering director Tom Gibson on unpaid administrative leave. Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley has named Brejesh Prayman the interim engineering director.”

Kriseman’s actions come a day after he was called on the carpet and sharply criticized by members of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation for three incidents this summer when the city’s sewer system was unable to handle torrential rains. Millions of gallons of raw overflow from manholes mixed with rainwater and partially treated sewage were dumped in Tampa Bay.

Legislators slammed Kriseman for the decision to close the Albert Whitted sewage plant and divert that wastewater to the Southwest plant. A whistleblower has claimed that a study in 2014 indicated that the Southwest plant did not have the capacity to take care of the additional sewage. Craven Askew said city officials knew that the capacity was insufficient to handle heavy rain events.

Kriseman said neither he nor St. Petersburg council members had ever been informed of that study. He called for an independent review into the management of the water resources department.

Palenchar, a Dunedin resident, has worked as an environmental control supervisor with the city of Largo since April 2013. He served there as the interim environmental manager from June through October 2015. He has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida.

Prayman, a Tampa resident, has worked for St. Petersburg since 2004, most recently as a senior professional engineer. He holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of South Florida.

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Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry service to begin on November 4

Organizers behind a ferry service that will take commuters from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg provided more details on Wednesday about the service, beginning with giving it a formal title — “The Cross-Bay Ferry.”

At a news conference held at the offices of Schifino Lee Advertising and Branding in Tampa’s Hyde Park on Wednesday, officials involved with the service gave a timeline of when the ferry will begin operations this fall.

Weekend service (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) will begin for the public starting on November 4. Tickets will be available for sale starting on October 15, with the website (crossbayferry.com) going live shortly before that time.

“I think people are going to just be wowed by it,” gushed Ed Turanchik, the policy adviser for the project. Turanchik represents HMS Ferries, the private company that will be operating the ferry service. Although Turanchik has been working with HMS Ferries for years in attempting to get a ferry service that would take commuters who work at MacDill Air Force Base to South Hillsborough County for years, that project is currently on hold, with an environmental study taking place to find a terminal site in the Southeast part of the county.

“We’ve had great input from the governments, from the private sector, the tourism industry,” said Turanchik, referring to the literal buy-in from the four major governments in Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as from the Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissions. All of them have contributed $350,000 of taxpayers money to the project.

Leading the effort has been St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who calls the ferry “a fantastic example of regional collaboration to take on an important challenge — transportation — in a way that’s exciting to experience and pays homage to our maritime history. Importantly, this is a test project, and we need the community to support this if we want it to continue and expand.”

From November 3- November 18, community and business organizations will be invited to experience the ferry Mondays-Fridays in what is being described as a series of pre-scheduled “Test the Waters” excursions, and can do so by signing up through the website.

During Thanksgiving week, the public can ride the ferry for free. Regular weekday service will then begin on Monday, November 28.

Initial ticket prices will likely begin at $10 per one-way trip, with special discounts for regular commuters, and other prices offset by promotional partnerships. Passengers will be able to book their tickets online well in advance, or purchase any available seats as walk-ups at either dock.

Private sector support and participation in the project already is positive. “We’re already receiving very strong interest from corporate sponsors and advertisers, plus more than fifty restaurants, museums and attractions have already told us that want to partner with the ferry project,” Turanchik said.

Schifino Lee Advertising + Branding will be creating the website and taking care of all communications, so the public is aware of the ferry service. That will include newspaper advertising in the Tampa Bay Times (which is being donated), radio promotion and possible billboards and television ads.

“All of it is through partnerships,” said Schifino Lee principal Ben Lee. “There’s been an overwhelming cooperation with people trying to get on board, in terms of businesses, media sponsors as well as attractions and stakeholders,” he said, including the Tampa Bay Partnership, The chamber of commerces in both Tampa and St. Petersburg, and the tourist agencies, Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

The vessel is a catamaran design that measures 55-feet, accommodating up to 149 passengers for the roughly 50-minute voyage between the cities. At St. Petersburg ship will dock in the yacht basin along Bay Shore Drive NE. At Tampa, the vessel will dock next to the Tampa Convention Center.

 

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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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Mitch Perry Report for 9.20.16 — Rick Kriseman works on turning it around

David Jolly seemed to take particular relish in last night’s debate, after Charlie Crist attacked him for being unresponsive to asking for federal help for St. Petersburg’s sewage problems post-Hurricane Hermine.

“Because the mayor who’s endorsed you who oversaw this catastrophe did not ask for it,” Jolly responded, which received a loud cheer from the crowd, which seemed evenly split among Jolly and Crist supporters.

It’s undoubtedly true the recent issues with sewage have become Mayor Rick Kriseman’s biggest challenge to date since he was elected 34 months ago to become the leader of St. Petersburg. Although many of the infrastructure issues preceded him into office, his failure to publicly disclose the fact that 58 million gallons of mostly treated wastewater out of the Northwest sewage plant has been his worse offense. And now he vows to do better.

“While we provided notification, future notification will be more robust without creating unnecessary alarm,” the mayor writes in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times.

“Another short-term goal is to give our residents ample opportunity to learn about our system and plans for the future,” Kriseman adds. “In the coming weeks and months, our public works administration will literally and figuratively open their doors. A public information session will be held so that residents are as aware of our infrastructure upgrades as they are about other, more flashy, endeavors. We also intend to welcome the community into our facilities to meet our team members, take a tour, and learn more about our operations. It may be a little smelly, but it’s a fascinating process and, along with public safety, a top priority.”

Kriseman is doing the right thing now. He’s also called for an investigation to determine why he wasn’t shown a consultant’s report warning that closing down the Albert Whitted Water treatment plant was the wrong way to go. Kriseman ordered the investigation immediately after the consultant, Craven Askew, came forward late last week.

There’s no doubt the mayor’s critics have exploited his miscues in handling this crisis, but that’s politics in the big city — especially when it comes to weather events. Or aren’t you familiar with how Ed Koch, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill deBlasio have had to do with how they handled the act of shoveling snow?

No doubt the mayor may be raked over the coals as both the local legislative delegation and the city council address the issue this week, but it need not be a fatal blow. It’s just time for that much-vaunted government term “transparency” to be employed “robustly” at 175 Fifth Street North.

In other news …

As mentioned above, David Jolly and Charlie Crist had at each other in a live, one-hour televised CD 13 debate Monday night at the Palladium Theatre in St. Pete.

Patrick Murphy came to West Tampa Monday, where he hoped to continue to build up his name ID with the Latino vote.

Kathy Castor is taking Dr. Samuel Wright to be her guest at the opening of the  National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. this weekend.

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan is calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to be abolished.

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Jack Latvala: What about using barges to prevent sewer overflows?

latvala, jack - flooding

On the eve of a meeting between the Pinellas Legislative delegation and city officials, state Sen. Jack Latvala has presented one possible solution to prevent further overflows of wastewater into Tampa Bay.

And he wants St. Petersburg officials to tell him if it’s a good idea and, if not, why not.

“I would like your presentation to include if it is feasible for barges or tankers to be brought into Bayboro to be used for heavy rain events and, if it is not viable, why not,” the Clearwater Republican wrote Monday in a letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Ben Kirby, spokesman for Kriseman, said the idea is one of many St. Petersburg officials have discussed. It will be one of the ideas that Claude Tankersley, the city’s public works chief, will present at Tuesday’s meeting.

The state of St. Petersburg’s sewer system has risen to the top of officials’ agendas after the city poured millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater into the bay during storms this summer. St. Petersburg officials say part of the problem is the city’s old sewer system that allows rain water to infiltrate and overburden the system, causing backups and overflows.

Earlier this month, Latvala and fellow Republican, state Rep. Kathleen Peters, called for a meeting of the Legislative Delegation to discuss what’s needed to prevent another overflow. The Pinellas County commission has also called for a task force to seek solutions to the problem.

The delegation is scheduled to meet Tuesday, which Latvala referred to, saying he was looking forward to hearing the city’s presentation.

“We are all deeply concerned by the discharge of hundreds of millions of wastewater that was not fully treated into our bay,” Latvala wrote. “I recognize that the city has projects underway and is planning that will alleviate these discharges in the future. But my question is, do we continue to sit by and allow these discharges happen during every major rain event until those projects are completed?”

Latvala said a constituent suggested bringing in relocatable storage units, such as barges, bladders, or tankers that the city could rent and place at Bayboro Harbor to hold “millions of gallons of outtake.”

“I would like for the city to consider renting bladders or barges and then pumping the flow to a processing plant when allowed after the rain event.”

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Mitch Perry Report for 9.19.16 — Jeffrey Toobin’s book on Patty Hearst is another American true-crime classic

Last night in Los Angeles, one of the big winners at the Emmy Awards was the FX production of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”

Though most of the American public was quite familiar with the O.J. saga that unfolded in 1994-1995, the series was compelling, must-see drama (too bad John Travolta’s positively weird performance as Robert Shapiro didn’t get rewarded), but it shouldn’t be underestimated that its main source material was New Yorker journalist Jeffrey Toobin’s book, “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”

Might we see another Toobin-penned narrative capture similar acclaim at a future Emmys award show?

I think it’s highly possible if he’s lucky enough to get the same talented people who worked on the FX show to produce “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst,” Toobin’s spellbinding retelling of the events that captured the attention of the nation in the mid-1970s, and the definitive book of this uniquely American drama that was published last month and which I finished reading on Sunday.

Combining great writing with a fascinating narrative — including new details about the two-year saga — Toobin weaves a riveting, hard-to-put-down document about the era and the actual events which took place in 1974 and 1975 not only in California, but also Pennsylvania.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I was very familiar with much of what we have known publicly about this case, but then his reporting takes over and fills in the details I’m confident most people weren’t aware of.

There certainly has never a been more definitive recounting of the fiery nationally televised shootout in South-Central Los Angeles on a Friday night in May 1974 that resulted in the deaths of five members of the Symbionese Liberation Army by the FBI and the LAPD’s SWAT team (captured in the chapter titled, “Apocalypse on Fifty-Fourth Street”) and the ultimate capture of Patty Hearst and her comrades in September of 1975.

There is one common theme in both stories — O.J.’s and Patty Hearst’s — one F. Lee Bailey, the notorious attorney (who Toobin quotes another journalist as writing) who was “drinking about 10 highballs every day” of the trial.

Toobin has said he was able to accomplish a lot of his research by going to newspapers.com, where he was able to access the daily reporting of local Bay Area publications (like the Berkeley Barb and the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner). He also obtained a treasure trove of material by purchasing 150 boxes of Hearst case documents — including FBI field reports, called 302s — curated by one of the SLA kidnappers, Bill Harris, who became a prominent private investigator after he was captured and served his time in prison.

Ultimately, Patty Hearst served less than two years in prison. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and a full pardon granted by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001.

Interestingly, we learn the reaction in the law enforcement community to her pardon was very different from what it had been earlier to her commutation (which was supported by Ronald Reagan in 1979).

Toobin writes that Robert Mueller, then the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco (and later director of the FBI) “wrote a scathing letter of objection.” In that letter, he included the fact that Patty was counting on the passage of time to allow her to rewrite history.

“The people who wrote in support of her pardon application obviously know nothing about the bombing of police vehicles by Hearst and her associates or her involvement in the Carmichael (California) robbery and murder,” Mueller wrote.

Hearst also fired a gun with live bullets when Bill Harris was caught shoplifting at Mel’s Sporting Goods store in 1975 — the event that led to the firebombing of the SLA home the following day.

Toobin says the film rights to his book has been bought by Fox 2000 — so undoubtedly you’ll be seeing this book on some sort of screen in the coming year or two, no question.

In other news …

There was this letter that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent to out Mayor Rick Kriseman Friday afternoon — more fallout from the whole sewage-gate imbroglio in St. Petersburg.

Earlier Friday, we saw the House District 63 debate between Shawn Harrison and Lisa Montelione.

Those two lawmakers, plus HD 60 Democratic candidate David Singertalk about Rick Scott and give them an individual grade.

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Joe Henderson: Polluted water in St. Pete leaves little room for mistake

We love the water around here. We boat on it, haul fish from it, swim in it, and build houses that provide spectacular views of it. Water is such a big deal around here that many people identify us not by the actual places where we live, but by the catchall name of Tampa Bay.

So while having local waterways polluted with millions of gallons of untreated sewage would be a major story anywhere, it is a catastrophe here. And that is what we have, stretching from St. Petersburg into Pasco County.

It has been called a “spill,” but that’s a little like calling the Johnstown Flood a “leak.” Fingers are being pointed in all directions, and we can only assume follow-up investigations into this will narrow down the culprits. A mess of this size almost certainly was a group effort.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday on Craven R. Askew, chief operator of the Northwest sewage plant in St. Petersburg. Askew asked St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman for whistleblower protection after publicly revealing a two-year-old study that warned something like that could happen.

In 2011, the city council voted to close the plant as a cost-saving measure. Askew had warned the three remaining treatment plants could be overwhelmed by the kind of rain that accompanied Hurricane Hermine two weeks ago.

That’s just what happened, as the remaining plants couldn’t handle the load and about 150 million gallons of sewage were loosed on city streets and waterways.

There were warning signs even before then, though. There were other, smaller spills that should have sounded an alarm, but apparently did not.

Kriseman, who took office in 2014, says he was unaware of Askew’s concerns. Well, Kriseman and everyone else knows about them now, so once the finger-pointing and backside-covering stops, the question becomes what the plan will be to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Hermine was a modest storm as tropical systems go, and yet the areas along the coast from Pasco and Pinellas were belted by widespread flooding and this wastewater nightmare. What would happen if there was a Category 3 or higher storm that took the path Hermine did?

Experts have been warning for years that all the land hugging the waters in our area could experience a Katrina-like disaster in the aftermath of a major hurricane. Hermine, comparatively, was a little puppy.

Damage and flooding would be unavoidable in that case, but there are steps the most vulnerable cities — and St. Petersburg qualifies — can take now that could mitigate the impact. I wonder if council members would have found another way to save money in 2011 if they could have looked into a crystal ball and foreseen what their pound-foolish approach would unleash.

Water is this area’s No. 1 resource. It forms the backbone of tourism and our quality of life, so let this be a lesson to all the officials and agencies charged with keeping that water clean. If you don’t get this one right, whatever else you do won’t matter much.

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DEP says St. Petersburg sewage discharges violate environmental laws

city-of-st-peteThe Florida Department of Environmental Protection has entered into a consent order with the City of St. Petersburg after determining the city violated environmental laws that resulted in the unpermitted discharges of sewage into Clam Bayou and Tampa Bay during August of 2015, June of 2016, and Aug. 31-Sept.13 of this year.

The 11-page document was signed by Mary Yeargan, Southwest District Director for the Florida DEP and sent to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Public Works Administer Claude Tankersley on Friday. Yeargan writes the DEP will soon be “reaching out to schedule a meeting in the very near future to discuss the terms of this Order.”

The DEP found violations to have occurred at three specific times: The first on Aug. 2-10 of 2015, when more than 31.5 million gallons of raw sewage dumped into Clam Bayou and surrounding neighborhoods.

On June 6-9 of 2016, approximately 230,000 gallons of untreated wastewater and effluent was released through overflows of manholes, and 9.77 million gallons of partially treated wastewater through the emergency outfall at the Albert Whitted Treatment Plant.

And from Aug. 31-Sept. 6 of 2016, unpermitted discharges of wastewater and effluent from several treatment plants, “resulted in the release of an unknown number of untreated wastewater and effluent through overflows of manholes and between 78 and 93 million gallons of partially treated wastewater” through Albert Whitted, and 58 million gallons of treated effluent to Jungle Lake.

In June, Pinellas County House District 69 Republican Kathleen Peters sent a letter to Florida DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, calling for an investigation into the city’s sewer system.

DEP spokesperson Dee Ann Miller says in June, the City of St. Petersburg and the DEP discussed a consent order, which sets up remedies and timelines “to reach solutions to bring the facility back into compliance.”

That document was delivered on Friday.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that Mayor Kriseman is calling for an independent firm to investigate why a 2014 consultant’s study that indicated closing down the Albert Whitted sewer plant could lead to spills and dumps never reached his desk.

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