Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State Lawmakers Grill St. Petersburg Over Sewage Spills

State Rep. Kathleen Peters holds a piece of a sewage line during Wednesday's meeting
Steve Newborn
State Rep. Kathleen Peters holds a piece of a sewage line during Wednesday's meeting

The Pinellas County legislative delegation met Wednesday to prevent another massive spill of sewage into the county's waterways because of overloaded - and outdated - sewage treatment systems.

But one thing is becoming clear after hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage overflowed into Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay after heavy rains this summer - a solution won't be cheap.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told lawmakers at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital the city plans to spend $304 million on a long-term plan over the next five years. That would include expanding the capacity of existing sewage treatment plants and fixing leaks, where stormwater can flow into the system when it rains. Still, that wasn't enough for State Sen. Jack Latvala.

"I just think we ought to look at some other options that'll be available," Latvala said. "I do not want to explain to the people of Tampa Bay about another couple hundred gallon discharge. I don't think you have adequately explored and considered some of the other options for interim solutions." 

Those options include having a barge or refillable bladders that could take on excess water. Claude Tankersley, St. Peterburg Public Works Administrator, said installing filters to partially treat that overflow would be a better solution. He was backed by Kriseman.

"Any elected official who guarantees that they will be able to prevent discharges from ever occuring is not being honest with you all," Kriseman said. "So we're not going to do that, but we're sure going to do everything we can to make sure that we don't have them - and if we have them, that we do everything we can to make sure that anything that is discharged has been at least partially treated, so that we don't have raw sewage flowing down the streets and going into the bay."

State Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena said city officials should consider installing refillable bladders on state-owned land near the Southwest wastewater treatment plant.

The legislative delegation will meet again on Dec. 2.

Copyright 2016 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.