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.