The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the sewage dumps in St. Pete that occurred August amid an extreme rain event.
The agency’s law enforcement division confirmed the investigation Friday, according to the Tampa Bay Times. A spokesperson told the Times they couldn’t release much more information because the investigation is ongoing.
“I’m disappointed that I’m having to learn about this from a member of the public and the media,” said City Council member Steve Kornell.
In all, the city dumped more than 31 million gallons of either raw or partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and Frenchman’s Creek at the Eckerd College campus, off the Pinellas Bayway.
It was first reported that 15 million gallons of raw sewage were dumped into the environmentally sensitive Clam Bayou near Boca Ciega Bay and more than 1 million gallons dumped into Tampa Bay.
It was later discovered that another 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage was also dumped.
The lack of communication prompted outrage in the community.
“The public deserves to know everything,” Kornell said. “There should not be a cover-up.”
The Times reported that the mayor’s office was unaware of the investigation when contacted Friday. However, a conversation with Rick Kriseman’s communication director, Ben Kirby, revealed that the city had been aware of an investigation since mid-August, but hadn’t heard anything since then.
An email sent to St. Pete Assistant Attorney Kim Streeter on September 14 shows the agency was in the process of closing out its investigation.
“I am preparing to close out my investigation; however, I have a couple of minor issues that should be discussed,” an email from investigator Darryl Garman said.
The city had sent a timeline of what transpired leading up to and following the dump.
That timeline shows that at 9 p.m. on August 2 five million gallons of reject water – water that is partially treated – began to overflow. It pointed out that the water had “undergone high-level disinfection and was within the turbidity requirements of reclaimed water.” However because the water had not yet been filtered it could not be classified as reclaimed water.
The city made the decision to allow overflow to continue at its Eckerd College stormwater system because “at this time of day, the evening peak normally begins to drop off.”
The timeline then shows that at 10:30 a.m. the next morning raw wastewater began overflowing “multiple manholes.” Later that morning the city made the decision to start utilizing pumps “to control the overflow.”
The city reported to the investigator that phone calls were made to Eckerd College and City of Gulfport staff in the early afternoon.
City Council is now grappling with how to improve the city’s stormwater system. It’s widely believed that the dump may have been avoided had the city not prematurely closed a water treatment facility at Albert Whitted Airport.
“We can’t go back, but we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Kornell said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”
According to the Times the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it would not be fining the city for the dump because it occurred while the area was under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Rick Scott.
Other municipalities had trouble with excess stormwater during the rain event. In Tampa, sewage in some areas seeped through manholes in city streets.
St. Pete officials had said that’s what they were trying to avoid by diverting overflow.
Public works administrator Mike Connors abruptly resigned following the issue.