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St. Pete says Clam Bayou is clean; Gulfport council member disagrees

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete is discontinuing water sampling in areas where wastewater overflow was released in early August as a result of a heavy rain event. According to the city, all of the affected areas have been tested within Safe Beach criteria for at least one week.

In some areas the levels of contaminants, particularly fecal coliform, have been within safe levels for three to five weeks.

“All of the sample sites have demonstrated a long term consistency of results within the Safe Beach criteria,” wrote Steven Leavitt, the city’s director of water resources in an email. “Thus, we are going to terminate the sampling and analysis program.”

During what the city describes as a 100-year rain event the city’s stormwater system was over-burdened. In order to avoid sewage overflows onto city streets and possibly even into people’s homes, the city diverted flows into Clam Bayou, Tampa Bay and Eckerd College.

The result was an onslaught of criticism from angry residents, City Council, Eckerd College leaders and the City of Gulfport.

The email shared with SaintPetersblog was sent to Gulfport City Council and its Mayor, Sam Henderson as well as key St. Pete staff and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The city hasn’t received an official response from Gulfport since the email was sent Tuesday, but Gulfport City Council member Dan Liedtke told the Tampa Bay Times otherwise.

“St Petersburg may have declared the Bayou is clean but our testing results from today prove otherwise,” Liedtke told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. “The city of Gulfport continues testing and today we found numbers outside the safe range. Gulfport Beach, Gulfport Marina and Gulfport’s side of Clam Bayou have all been posted as unsafe and are closed.”

He echoed that sentiment earlier Thursday tweeting in response to St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s post about safe water levels, “Ready for a swim in Clam Bayou? Not safe this week but maybe by Monday we can give it a go?”

This isn’t the first time Liedtke has criticized the city. In an October 14 tweet Liedtke posted a meme showing a pretty princess popping out of a manhole with the text, “THE SEWER FAIRY: St. Petersburg’s #1 solution to their #2 problem.”

In late September he openly criticized Kriseman writing that, “St. Pete passed a budget with no clue @Kriseman hiked parking rates $168,000 year?”

The city may be celebrating restored water quality in areas affected by the sewage dump, but Liedtke’s Twitter activity and email to the Times illustrate a looming problem facing Kriseman’s administration.

Despite rejuvenated efforts to shore up the city’s aging wastewater infrastructure, many residents are still peeved over the 31 million gallon dump of raw and partially-treated sewage.

They’re even more agitated over the city’s handling of it by which they first admitted 16 million gallons of raw sewage had been dumped. It wasn’t until weeks later the city admitted there was another 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage also dumped.

A request to Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson for the neighboring city’s water testing results was not immediately answered.

Variations in testing results could come from a variety of factors. Bacteria levels tend to spike during heavy rains. The timing of Gulfport’s testing could have shown dirtier water than the city if they were conducted immediately following heavy rain. The city may also have different baseline criteria.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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