Environmental groups sue St. Petersburg over sewage mess
Three environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to hold St. Petersburg accountable for the 200 million gallons of sewage that the city has been discharged August 2015.
The three groups — Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc., the Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation — filed suit Friday in Tampa’s Middle District of Florida alleging “serious and ongoing” violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The aim of the lawsuit is to get the city to comply with the law. The groups have been negotiating with the city over the past two months, said Justin Bloom, executive director of SunCoast Waterkeeper. “But we feel the most appropriate venue is federal court where a broad-ranging consent order that is enforceable is obtainable,” Bloom said.
Former Environmental Protection Agency official Christopher Sproul, an attorney involved in the suit, said in a statement that the sewage discharges present an unusual threat: “I have rarely if ever seen a situation worse than the one in St. Petersburg.”
Sproul and Our Children’s Earth Foundation have filed other sewage-related lawsuits to enfore the Clean Water Act, including one in Hawaii where a surfer died after being exposed to dangerous sewage-related bacteria. The group said the presence of dangerous bacteria in St. Petersburg’s spills, confirmed by University of South Florida researchers, are of particular concern.
The city hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet, said assistant city attorney Joe Patner.
“We’re continuing to speak with the other side and we’re hopeful that a solution can be reached that avoids full-blown litigation,” Patner said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also plans to fine St. Petersburg $820,000 as part of a consent order that outlines steps the city must take to fix its outdated and overburdened sewer system.