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Public gets another shot at suggesting fixes to St. Pete’s ‘Sewer-gate’

It’s a crisis that’s become something of a boondoggle — and, moreover, a public health issue.

Now St. Petersburg’s overwhelmed and dilapidated sewer system is again at the forefront as officials held another round of public discussions in the costly and complex issue of best to go about fixing the problem.

The topic of the evening, as reported by The Tampa Bay Times, a 12-page consent order written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – faulting city officials when the system became overwhelmed in the wake of Hurricane Hermine September, spilling somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage.

DEP slapped the city with an $810,000 fine for the unauthorized move, but in fairness, city officials say, it was unavoidable.

“When we’re put into a situation where we have to choose between public health and the environment, either way, we lose,” Claude Tankersley, the public works chief for the city, told The New York Times days after the spill happened. “The fact that our system was constructed over decades makes it more complicated.”

The event became a controversy when city officials, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, claimed most of the sewage was filtered rain water and dramatically underestimated the amount spilled, which dumped into Tampa Bay, adding to tens of millions of gallons also spilled by area municipalities like Tampa, Largo and Clearwater.

On Wednesday Kriseman listened, Tampa Bay Times reporter Claire McNeill noted in her story.

“You all let my 8-year-old daughter go sailing right in the immediate area where the discharges were occurring,” Martha Collins, 44, told officials, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “And that’s absolutely unacceptable.”

It was a chance for several people to let city officials know how they felt about being misled — about the loss of trust.

One young candidate for City Council, Eritha Cainion, 20, discussed the termination of a black employee with the City of St. Petersburg, who had been terminated in the unfolding aftermath of the spill, intoning the man had been made a scapegoat while also noting spirits were not high in that department.

“We’re talking about a Department that has severe racial tension,” Cainion said, McNeill’s article said.

Tankersley, who was present at the meeting Wednesday, which was held at Azalea Recreation Center, mediated the meeting. He thanked the young man and explained the course of events in September, when Hurricane Hermine swept through, dumping inches of rain in a brief period.

As the meeting moved forward, opinions ranged from conservationism to anger, with one individual calling for the arrests of those responsible, McNeill’s piece said.

“Somebody needs to go to jail for what happened,” the person said, wrote the Times. “That was a crime.”

Sabastien Bourdais wins St. Pete Grand Prix by going worst-to-first

Sebastien Bourdais started the day in last place. He finished in first.

Any questions?

Bourdais took the St. Petersburg Grand Prix Sunday, beating reigning Series champion Simon Pagenaud by more than 10 seconds. Bourdais, who is from France but lives in St. Petersburg, started the day in 21st place – last – after a problem in qualifying.

“It’s probably the hardest race to recover. The (passing) windows are super narrow, and it’s difficult to pass,” Bourdais said. “We had a pretty good car, and I just threw it away. I really didn’t know what to do myself. To turn the result from yesterday to today, I just thank the guys.”

Bourdais earned his 36th career victory, which broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. It was the fifth career win for the Coyne team.

“From last to first, that’s about all you can do,” Coyne said, adding of his new hires, “we knew we’d be much better than we were before.”

Bourdais led 69 of the 110 laps to give Honda a much-needed victory over Chevrolet.

Scott Dixon finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing, in its first race back with Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth for Andretti Autosport, and Honda appeared much improved with four drivers in the top five. Takuma Sato was fifth in his first race with Andretti.

St. Pete to spend $16M on Northwest sewage plant upgrades by summer

Sewage continues to be a nagging problem for St. Petersburg, after two summers with huge wastewater discharges into Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.

At the center of the debate, reports Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, is whether to reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Facility, as well as expanding the Southwest sewage plant.

Getting not nearly as much press is the city’s Northwest plant, which also suffered a massive spill after Hurricane Hermine, dumping sewage in neighborhoods along 22nd Avenue N and into Boca Ciega Bay.

Although the city posted some warning signs, residents weren’t notified of the spillage.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman explained warnings were not necessary since the 58 million gallons of sewage was “reclaimed water,” a statement he later admitted was wrong and reclassified the wastewater as “partially-treated sewage.”

After a series of missteps over the spills, which Frago describes as “enraging residents and eroding trust” in Kriseman, the city is now looking at spending $16 million to upgrade the Northwest plant ahead of the upcoming summer rainy season.

Previously, the plant had no problem with overflow. But after Hermine, which Frago says “caused a bottleneck to develop at the plant’s filters preventing the water able to be treated.”

“The city plans to drill two new injection wells to dispose of treated sewage deep underground and add more filters to increase the plant’s capacity to treat sewage from 40 million gallons a day to 55 million gallons a day,” Frago writes. Work is scheduled for completion by the summer.

Among the work needed at the Northwest plant is a repair of one of the clarifying tanks, which allow solid waste to settle. During Hermine, one of the tanks was out of commission. Frago notes that the city will dig to new injection wells, which will require drilling rigs to operate around the plant 24/7 for about a year, with noise that could be heard by residents nearby.

Residents did complain about some work recently, but chief plant operator Sylvia Rosario tells the Times that it is a necessary trade-off for improved performance.

“They have to make a choice: do they want to put up with the noise for a year or risk another overflow?” she said.

Frago reports that Kriseman is committing $304 million through 2021 to fix the city sewage system, with almost $59 million for the Northwest plant. But rebuilding trust may be another challenge.

Jameis Winston: Comments about girls were ‘poor word choice’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping another student when he was in college, said he made a “poor word choice” in comments about women in a 40-minute talk to students at a Florida elementary school earlier this week.

When the students – third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg – started getting fidgety, Winston told the boys to stand up, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston told the children. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken.”

The quarterback went on to say, “But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong.”

Several hours later, Winston was asked by reporters about the speech and reflected about what he’d said. He said he was making an effort to interact with a young boy in the audience who didn’t appear to be paying attention. He said he didn’t want to single him out so he asked all the boys to stand.

“During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some,” he said.

The newspaper reported that some adults in the room were troubled by Winston’s comments, but didn’t want to comment publicly.

Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at Melrose, said Winston’s message about children being able to accomplish anything was positive. But when he told the boys to stand up and that they are strong, some of the girls took note.

“One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, “I’m strong, too,” Vollnad told the Times.

Winston was accused of raping a student in 2012 when they were both Florida State University students. Winston has said they had consensual sex. He was not arrested. Winston and the accuser settled a civil lawsuit in December.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jeff Brandes goes mobile; to hold mobile office hours Monday

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is going mobile.

The St. Petersburg Republican announced Friday he will be holding mobile office hours Monday in St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg.

In a statement, Brandes says his mobile office hours will allow constituents an extra opportunity to meet with him and discuss issues in the community.

Brandes’ mobile office hours are open to the public; no appointment is necessary.

Monday, Feb. 27
TIME: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Regatta Room, University Student Center
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
200 6th Ave. South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Monday, Feb. 27
TIME: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce
6990 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706

Brandes serves as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

 

Latest findings released in St. Petersburg pelican deaths

After initial testing in and around a retention pond known as Riviera Bay Lake, independent biologists from Arcadis have discovered a potential cause.

“There’s a significant nutrient impact on this stormwater lake,” said Interim Water Resources Director John Palenchar, “A lot of nitrogen was seen in the analytical results that came back from this lake.”

Arcadis biologists say potential sources of the increased nitrogen could be from runoff containing fertilizers which create the neighborhood’s landscaping up to the lake shore, as well animal waste.

They also point to a cold-weather snap that occurred the first week of January, which produced an inversion event. Inversion events occur when the surface water temperature drops dramatically and is replaced with a bottom layer of water, containing lower levels of oxygen.

That led to a substantial fish kill in the lake – primarily of tilapia.

Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish, known for an inability to survive in cooler waters, and inhabit shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes and less commonly found living in brackish water -and are a food source of pelicans.

“It was very likely some sort of pathogen within the freshwater fish that may have caused this,” said Palenchar.

While studies continue to further pinpoint the problem, including tests on samples obtained along Coffee Pot Bayou, Palenchar is confident that Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission-initiated necropsies and future Arcadis findings will help chart a course of action to remedy the situation, including aerating dissolved oxygen in the lake.

“Being able to put in a fountain or a pump could actually alleviate that,” he said.  “We are asking Arcadis to look at any best management practices or improvements that can be done to improve water quality.”

The latest findings from Arcadis are available at stpete.org/water/waterquality.php.

With sanctuary city comment, Rick Kriseman defiant, but misguided

Whether you agree with the rules or you don’t, it’s never wise for a person in authority to say they are not going to follow the law. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially did that when he stated the following in a blog post:

“While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” he wrote.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States. Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

Kriseman was forced to retreat Sunday after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his officers would enforce the law. That’s when Kriseman said in an interview that St. Pete isn’t really a so-called Sanctuary City — it just agrees with the concept.

That’s called trying to have it both ways. It usually doesn’t work.

That said, I agree completely with Kriseman that President Trump’s demonization of undocumented immigrants goes against everything America is supposed to stand for. So much about the president’s immigration policy is morally and ethically repugnant, designed to stoke irrational fear among the citizenry.

I just wish Kriseman had taken the approach of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He visited the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque Friday to support those jittery about the travel ban Trump wants to impose on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told them. “I don’t care what this President did — that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!”

See the difference in the approaches of the two mayors?

Buckhorn stepped up to the line and maybe jumped up and down on it a bit, but Kriseman stepped over it.

Buckhorn was supportive. Kriseman was defiant.

Both are Democrats, by the way.

Buckhorn told reporters covering the Friday event that Tampa is not a Sanctuary City, but he left enforcement up to his police department. When Kriseman said St. Petersburg police wouldn’t stop someone suspected of being here illegally, that took it a bit too far.

Hence, his retreat Sunday.

That could have repercussions for Kriseman in a re-election bid. While Pinellas County has only 245 more registered Republicans than Democrats (out of 641,484 voters), Trump won there in November by about 5,500 votes over Hillary Clinton.

A recent poll showed Kriseman trailing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker in a theoretical rematch (Baker has not declared he is running).

That’s a discussion for another day, though.

For now, I’ll give Kriseman high marks for having his heart in the right place. On the rest of it, though, he gets an incomplete.

Second poll in a row shows Rick Kriseman losing to Rick Baker in hypothetical match-up

Rick Kriseman would have a tough time in his re-election bid for St. Petersburg mayor, especially if former mayor Rick Baker entered the race, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

A StPetePolls survey conducted Jan. 30 shows Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent — if the election were held today. Just over 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Although Baker, the popular Republican who during his nine years as mayor built an impressive legacy, has told reporters that running again was “not on my radar,” nearly half the city wants to see him return to City Hall. Baker is currently president of The Edwards Group, the firm owned by St. Petersburg entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Edwards.

As a Democrat, Kriseman gets somewhat tepid support from his own party — 45 percent to Baker’s 39 percent, with nearly 16 percent unsure. On the other hand, Baker gets nearly 61 percent of Republican voters, compared to 25 percent for Kriseman. The two split the independent vote: 39 percent for Baker, 38 percent for Kriseman.

Baker also outperforms Kriseman with both men (47 percent to 36 percent), women (47 percent to 38 percent) and in nearly every age group. Kriseman does best with ages 50 to 69, behind Baker by only a single point (43 percent to 42 percent), while the poll reports a substantial number of undecideds.

As for a breakdown along racial lines, Baker is preferred over Kriseman by both blacks (48 percent to 33 percent) and whites (47 percent to 38 percent). Baker also is the choice of Hispanics (33 percent to 28 percent), despite nearly 39 percent of Hispanics remaining undecided.

The poll for FloridaPolitics.com used an automated phone call system with a sample size of 892 registered voters in the city of St. Petersburg. Results were weighted to account for proportional differences in demographics and that of the active voter population as of Dec. 6, 2016. Demographics included political party, race, age and gender. The results have a 3.3 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force to meet to discuss action plan

Pinellas County residents are invited to attend the second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday to hear about the team’s Initial Action Plan.

The Technical Working Group will present the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the county.

Monday’s meeting will be held at the University Partnership Center – Digitorium, located at the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. Attendees will have the opportunity interact with Task Force members and share comments or questions.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. Some systems were overwhelmed by the amount of rain and dumped raw and partially treated wastewater into county waterways. Others systems had overflows at faulty manholes.

The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners, and three private utility systems.

 

 

St. Pete releases rehabilitated pelicans back into wild

Following two weeks of care and rehabilitation, seven brown pelicans have been released back into their native habitat – near the rookery at Snell Isle in the waters of Coffee Pot Bayou.

“I’m happy with that,” said Kris Porter with Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife.

Porter and her team of rescuers were responsible for nursing the sick pelicans back to health after almost 70 birds were found sick or dead near the site of a fish kill earlier this month in a retention pond near Riviera Bay located close to the pelican’s breeding colony at Snell Isle. That rookery is also home to hundreds of birds who have exhibited no ill effects since the initial discoveries.

Warning signs were posted by the city of St. Petersburg on Jan. 15 as a precaution, while scientists took water samples and studied potential causes of the avian sickness. The signs were later removed as water quality test results were found to be well within the accepted parameters for recreational use.

Studies by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Arcadis, an independent firm hired by the city, continue. Those results are expected within the week. So far, tests have ruled out a number of possibilities, but no specific reason has been found.

Porter, who has more than 40 years’ experience working with wildlife and wildlife rescues, says while the pelican deaths may actually be from natural causes, the nearby fish kill and red tide caused by the cold weather inversion, may also be factors.

“It seems that we see pelican issues every January, but I’m just happy to have these birds better,” Porter said.

More information will be released when results of toxicology and in-depth water testing are finalized.

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