St. Petersburg Archives - Page 6 of 33 - SaintPetersBlog

Decision to reopen Albert Whitted sewage plant up to city council, Rick Kriseman says

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Friday he’s leaving the decision to bring the Albert Whitted sewer plant back online up to city council members.

Kriseman said a consultant’s reported indicated the expense and time to bring the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility up to a usable standard would be costly and time-consuming. The money and time, the consultant said, could be better used.

Kriseman also provided a quick update on the city’s progress in solving the city’s sewer woes.

City officials are moving as quickly as they can, he said, in hiring someone to do an audit of the city’s water resources department to discover the whos, whats and whens of a 2014 consultant’s report. The report warned the city that closing the Albert Whitted plant and diverting the flow to the nearby Southwest plant before the capacity at that plant was increased would be courting disaster.

“Most importantly,” Kriseman said of the external audit, it will find out “why the council didn’t see the report and why I didn’t see the report.”

Kriseman said he’s also devoting one employee in the city’s procurement department to purchases related to the water resources department and the sewer improvements. That should help move things along quickly, he said.

The city expects to have a timeline available in the next two weeks, he said, outlining the city’s plans going forward. Among those plans is the expenditure of about $58 million in the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That money will be spent relining pipes and starting projects designed to increase the capacity of the system.

The city has earmarked an additional $230 million over the next five years for other improvements to the system, and another $8 million a year on pipes.

But Kriseman said it will all take time and will not solve the problems caused by lateral pipes – those leading from homes and businesses into the public system. Those, he said, will also have to be fixed to help prevent future flooding.

The mayor said he’s also hoping that other municipalities that send their sewage to St. Pete for treatment will also work to improve their systems.

The problem in St. Petersburg, he said, is not capacity. The city has enough capacity to handle all the sewage it treats. The problem is an incursion and rain problem. When heavy rains get into the system, he said, that overburdens the system and causes the overflows.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

St. Pete City Council orders outside audit of sewer report

Rick-KrisemanSt. Petersburg City Council members voted Thursday unanimously to call in outside auditors to find out why a 2014 sewer report was never given to the mayor or council.

It’s also likely that the committee will bring in an outside consultant to evaluate the management of the city’s water resources department. The item will be on an upcoming agenda of a council committee. It’s likely the consultant will also be asked to widen the evaluation to include both the sanitation and information technology departments.

The decision came after a couple of weeks of battering for a 151 million gallon sewage spill into Tampa Bay and surrounding waters. Between 35 and 40 residents had sewage back up into their homes.

The wastewater discharge was caused by a sewer system overburdened by rains from a tropical storm that passed offshore. The storm, which later became Hurricane Hermine, dumped heavy rain on Pinellas County.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has blamed the system overflow in part on a worn infrastructure that allowed rainwater to infiltrate pipes and overwhelm the system.

Another component to the problem was the April 2015 closure of the Albert Whitted sewer plant. Wastewater from the plant was diverted to the nearby Southwest plant, which is slated for expansion. Kriseman has said officials’ belief that the Southwest plant could handle the overflow was based on conclusions in consultants’ studies.

A 2014 report, however, said the city would risk an overflow if Albert Whitted were closed before Southwest was expanded. Kriseman and council members said they never received that report. It’s that report that the council wants traced to find out what happened and why members weren’t told of its conclusions.

Kriseman on Wednesday put two midlevel directors on unpaid leave, saying the water resources department “had weak leadership” who had “a degree of disregard for decision makers.”

Kriseman told council members he also intends to hire a public information officer whose sole job would be to keep people informed of happenings in the water resources department. That would include the progress of repairs and improvements to the system and communications about problems in the system whether those arise from storms or other causes.

The council agreed with Kriseman that, once work begins on the expansion of the Southwest plant and other improvements, workers would be on site seven days a week and be able to work double shifts. The goal is to have the system ready for the 2018 storm season to help avoid a future overflow.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Joe Henderson: St. Pete’s stinky mess, sewage and politics

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is angry — MAD, I tell you! — that Gov. Rick Scott is playing politics just because the city’s streets and waterways were covered in sewage following Hurricane Hermine.

Um, Mr. Mayor?

I suspect you already know this, but you have a lot bigger problems than the Republican governor of the state turning a major mess in the city controlled by a Democratic mayor (that’s you, sir) into political capital.

Of course, politics will be involved, and Scott did what politicians do when he quite properly ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate just how badly St. Petersburg screwed this thing up. It was political, too, when Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly asked for federal intervention into the matter.

Jolly’s move is a bit snarky. Like Charlie Crist, his opponent for the CD 13 seat in November, pointed out in their debate Monday, where was Jolly when the streets started looking and smelling bad? Jolly said he wasn’t asked to get involved.

Bad answer.

But Scott’s moves, while political, also are things the governor should be doing. He ought to be turning up the heat to broiling. That includes his order for the state health department to test whether some beaches and water for lingering effects of the sewage flood that turned parts of a lovely city into a stinky mess.

That prompted this rebuttal from Kriseman:

“The Department of Environmental Protection is already involved in this issue, 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,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Actually, the governor said spills in other parts of the area are being investigated as well. But unless there is some information that has yet to become public, none of those other places had a blunt warning two years ago to expect this result if a big storm hit.

That is what a city-commissioned study predicted in 2014 after officials shut down the Albert Whitted treatment plant to save money. Kriseman said he never saw that report and apparently neither did city council members, but everyone knows about it now after an official in the wastewater department produced it last week.

That official promptly asked for whistleblower protection, which is an indication of how volatile this report is. Kriseman has already suspended two major leaders the wastewater department, and we’ll all be surprised if there isn’t a top-to-bottom overhaul there.

Well and good.

St. Petersburg follows the strong mayor form of government, which essentially means Kriseman is the CEO and oversees the city’s day-to-day operations.

When something like this happens, the buck naturally is going to stop at his desk, and there will be fallout from the political opposition. Kriseman’s better response for Scott’s decree would be to welcome the DEP investigators, the health department, and any other agencies who show up at his door.

Sure, they’re coming for his scalp. Welcome them anyway. They will write scathing reports about how badly things got bungled here. The public already knows this, so the mayor should just swallow the medicine coming his way and do whatever it takes — beg, borrow, whatever — to make sure this never happens again.

In the meantime, consider this. Upgrading the city’s water treatment system to handle a storm like Hermine, or worse, could take a couple of years. Hold your breath.

Or at least your nose.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

St. Pete Councilmember wants to consider reopening Albert Whitted sewage facility

Steve KornellSteve Kornell says he wants to revisit the 2011 decision to close the Albert Whitted sewage plant and to take another look at the decision to move all biosolids to the Southwest plant.

The reason? He doesn’t trust that city staff gave council full, unbiased information when members made those decisions.

Kornell made the announcement Wednesday on his Facebook page:

“I have placed a new business item on the agenda for the Oct. 6 city council meeting asking that city council reconsider the decision to close the Albert Whitted plant and to work to reopen it as soon as possible. I am also asking that we reconsider the decision to move all bio- solids to the already clearly overloaded SW Plant. Let’s see how it goes this time.”

Later Wednesday, Kornell said, “I think we should have this discussion again in light of recent events.”

Kornell was referring in part to the dumping of 150 million gallons of partially treated wastewater, and stormwater mixed with raw sewage from manholes into Tampa Bay during three storms this past summer. City officials have blamed crumbling pipes and lack of capacity for the discharges.

The lack of capacity was caused in part by the closure of the Albert Whitted treatment plant and the subsequent diversion of the wastewater to the Southwest plant. City officials have said they believed the Southwest plant had enough capacity to handle the wastewater normally flowing into it as well as the wastewater from Albert Whitted. That belief was based on a 2010 or 2011 study that concluded the closure of Albert Whitted would not tax Southwest. Based on that study, a unanimous council in early 2011 gave preliminary approval to the closure of Albert Whitted.

But before a final vote was taken, Kornell said, a resident found another study on the city’s website that said it would be better to divert the Albert Whitted wastewater to three other sites, not just one. Based on that study, Kornell said, he and then-council member Wengay Newton were the only two to vote against the closure of Albert Whitted.

Last week, a city employee, Craven Askew, told officials that there was a 2014 study that said Southwest could not handle the wastewater from Albert Whitted. Askew, who claimed whistleblower status, said city officials knew that overflows would occur if Albert Whitted was finally closed. That closure happened in 2014.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has said neither he nor council members had heard of the study until Askew revealed it. Kriseman has asked for an investigation into the city’s water resources department and, Wednesday, he put two midlevel water resources employees on unpaid administrative leave.

Kornell backed up Kriseman, saying that would not be the first time city staff members appear to have withheld or slanted information that does not jibe with staff recommendations.

“I will tell you there’s a pattern of not sharing studies with us,” Kornell said. “So when the mayor says we didn’t receive a report, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

That lack of trust, Kornell said, is also prompting him to call for a review of the decision to move biosolids to Southwest without a backup solution. Biosolids are the organic, solid matter derived from sewage.

Kornell said his questions about the wisdom of not having a backup were greeted with “a very snarky, smug answer. … They just blew it off.”

But, it just doesn’t make sense, he said, to have only one place for biosolids. If something happens to Southwest, which is clearly overburdened, then the city would be in real trouble. And in view of the news that information is being withheld from the council, it just makes sense to ask questions and take a closer look at recommendations, he said.

“If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s to question,” Kornell said. “As long as I feel staff is slanting information, I will continue” to ask.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

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.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

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.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Joe Henderson: Cross-Bay ferry – an idea whose time has finally come

One Saturday afternoon several months ago, I needed to drive from Brandon to St. Petersburg. As always, I took Interstate 4 to I-275 in downtown Tampa and headed toward the lovely ‘Burg.

Most days, that trek would take me about 40-45 minutes, assuming the weather was good, and there wasn’t a wreck at Malfunction Junction or on the big bridge. On this otherwise lovely afternoon, though, the journey took nearly 90 minutes.

Was there a wreck?

No.

Police activity?

Nope.

There were just a lot of cars, maybe headed toward the beach or, like me, toward one of the fine attractions in St. Petersburg. And as my wife and I inched along through the traffic quagmire, I may have once again opined (screamed?) that we need some freaking mass transportation in this area!

So, I will give two thumbs-up to Ed Turanchik’s ballyhooed Cross-Bay Ferry service between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg will begin offering weekend service (Friday through Sunday) November 4.

As Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com reported, tickets are $10 each way for the 50-minute voyage.

A ferry ticket will earn you discounts for goods and services at many merchants, and local transportation – much of it free or very cheap – can take riders to Rays games, the beach, Ybor City, and other spots right after they disembark.

“It is simply the best transportation option we have in the Bay area,” said Turanchik, the former Hillsborough County commissioner who was a driving force behind the ferry.

A word about Turanchik: He is a forward-thinker. He was derided as “Commissioner Choo-Choo” in the 1990s for strongly advocating light rail as a way to head off our now-choking traffic problem. He also pushed to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to Tampa and Central Florida (OK, so maybe not all of his ideas are great).

But this ferry seemed right from the start, and if it can survive the initial shakedown period, it can be a game-changer.

You know how things go. Something new comes along and it’s trendy, so people will love at first. Then after a little while, inertia sets in and they return to old habits, so I would expect ridership to drop off for a while.

With more people moving in every day (meaning more cars) and our roads under a perpetual state of construction, though, the ferry is a practical alternative that could make people wonder why it didn’t come along sooner.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Rick Scott orders DEP investigation in St. Petersburg sewage discharges

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate sewage discharges in St. Petersburg.

The Governor’s Office made the announcement Wednesday, just one day after Scott called on the state Department of Health to begin additional testing at the discharge site. While the city is responsible for testing in the immediate area, the Department of Health will monitor the water quality and do sampling at 14 beaches — including nine in Pinellas County and five in Hillsborough.

“Florida is known for our pristine environment, world-class beaches and award-winning state parks,” said Scott in a statement. “We must do all we can to protect our environment, and that is why I am directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the sewage dump that occurred in St. Petersburg following Hurricane Hermine.”

Heavy rains from Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed the area’s sewer systems. That caused millions of gallons of sewage to flow into the streets and waterways. According to the Governor’s Office, St. Petersburg dumped more than 150 million of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay.

The Department of Health has issued a health advisory for Simmons Park Beach in Hillsborough County, across the bay from St. Petersburg.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

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.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Janet Long suggests bringing all the sewer systems in Pinellas under one umbrella

Janet LongIn recent months, St. Petersburg has become the poster child for a crumbling sewer infrastructure that’s dumped millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay.

But the problem of failing infrastructure is much bigger than St. Pete. It’s countywide. The county, Largo, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs — just to name four — also have had problems with sewer systems unable to handle recent heavy rains.

It’s an urgent problem, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said Monday. It’s one complicated by a fragmented system that’s undergone decades of neglect. It’s time, Long said, to consider a countywide sewer system, somewhat like the solid waste management system.

The county runs the one landfill in Pinellas and oversees the one waste-to-energy facility in Pinellas. On the other hand, Pinellas County has 17 sewer systems — one belonging to the county, 13 belonging to municipalities, and three belonging to private landowners, according to county records.

The cost to upgrade those, in particular for the systems run by smaller cities like Treasure Island, South Pasadena, Gulfport, Redington Shores, and North Redington Beach, could be prohibitive.

“These are big infrastructure projects that one little city can’t handle on its own,” Long said.

Even the bigger cities will have problems affording improvements.

A better system, she said, would bring all the systems under one umbrella. Then, a study could be done to see how best to develop a state-of-the-art system for the entire county. After that, a decision could be made on ways to free up the necessary resources to pay to have the system put in place.

“I’m hoping that this task force will help us get there,” Long said. She was referring to a county task force Pinellas commissioners agreed to set up to find long-range solutions to the flooding and sewer infrastructure problems.

The failing infrastructure is a problem caused by decades of neglect, she said, in part because there’s never been an outcry to improve the wastewater system.

“There’s never been a brouhaha over the sewer system until now,” Long said. But now that people are paying attention, it’s time to find a long-term solution.

“We can’t wait 20 years,” she said.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons