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Rick Kriseman accuses governor of playing politics with the sewage issue

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

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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