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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

FWC investigating St. Pete sewage spill

4

October

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has opened an investigation into St. Petersburg's sewage discharges, a spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

"Our agency launched an investigation in support of DEP. The FWC Division of Law Enforcement is conducting a comprehensive investigation. Once it is complete, we will release all of our findings to the public, including any information that may have been gained through subpoena," said Susan Smith.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the city's sewage dumps and spills. Since last August, the city has discharged nearly 200 million gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays as well as local waterways and watersheds. 

The DEP doesn't have the ability to pursue criminal prosecutions. For that, the state relies upon FWC law enforcement officers. 

Although utilities across Tampa Bay discharged sewage in the wake of Hurricane Hermine last month, St. Petersburg's 150 million gallons was by far the most pollution released.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly and Sen. Marco Rubio have called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch a formal investigation. So far, the federal agency hasn't done so.

Also on Tuesday, Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley said he didn't brief Mayor Rick Kriseman about a Sept. 19 memo from Steven Leavitt, the former Water Resources Director placed on unpaid leave two days later. 

In that memo, Leavitt listed more than a dozen changes implemented by his department after the July 2014 study by Brown and Caldwell, a Tampa consulting firm, concluded closing the Albert Whitted sewage plant on the city's waterfront could lead to sewage discharges.

Those changes included increasing capacity and surveying manholes in the areas served by the Southwest and Albert Whitted plants, but, Tankersley noted, they didn't include any recommendation to reopen Albert Whitted.

Tankersley said he wanted his plant operators to verify Leavitt's claims before alerting the mayor. 

"I was viewing it as a draft," Tankersley said. 

He said Leavitt's memo, which was copied to Tom Gibson, the city's engineering department director who was also placed on unpaid leave, left him with some "lingering questions," including why the mayor or City Council wasn't briefed on the 2014 study.

Kriseman didn't respond immediately to a request for comment on whether Tankersley should have shared the memo with the mayor.

Last month, Kriseman and council members voiced outrage that they hadn't been briefed on the now highly-scrutinized 2014 report. Brown and Caldwell officials are expected to appear at the council's meeting Thursday to address questions about why the report was apparently buried.

The city closed Albert Whitted in April 2015, four months before the first spills occurred. Wastewater officials have since said that was a mistake and have partially reopened the aging facility to handle emergency storage of sewage. On Thursday, those officials are expected to present council members with a price tag and timeline to reopen the plant.

 

 

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2016 4:32pm]

    

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