Jolly said he's close to calling for EPA investigation of St. Pete sewage dumps
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, locked in a battle with former Gov. Charlie Crist for the 13th Congressional District seat, said Tuesday he would "very, very likely" call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate St. Petersburg's release of about 151 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays since Hurricane Hermine.
Jolly's comment came a day after a debate in which Crist, lambasted the Republican incumbent for not moving to help the city in a sewage crisis that Crist compared to the environmental disaster in Flint, Mich.
Jolly said Mayor Rick Kriseman hadn't asked for help (which Kriseman's office confirmed Tuesday). Crist responded that Jolly shouldn't wait for an invitation to offer aid.
"Charlie got a good lick on me, I realize that," Jolly said. "I sounded flippant, but it really is a jurisdictional issue. Congress doesn't do sewers. Typically, when municipalities need help, they ask for it."
Jolly cited Largo approaching his office for help on their sewer system, currently under a state consent order. Clearwater has called him for help on a troublesome HUD issue. That's how it typically works, Jolly said.
Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor approached U.S. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, for help after Hermine. Kriseman also appealed to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when she visited in August. Both promised to help, Kirby said, adding that Kriseman planned to travel at an as yet undetermined date to Washington, D.C. to seek aid for the city's overwhelmed system.
Jolly said his office has been reviewing a whistleblower complaint from Craven Askew, the Northeast wastewater treatment plant operator, who claimed Friday that a 2014 consultant report showed closing the Albert Whitted sewer plant on the waterfront could lead to spills in wet weather. Kriseman denied all knowledge of that report. He ordered an investigation into why it never surfaced publicly and a review of the Water Resources Department.
The whistleblower complaint is serious, Jolly noted, and may well provoke federal action. Albert Whitted doesn't lie within his district, but he does represent part of the city and said he considers all of Pinellas County to be part of his district regardless of the boundary lines.
"We can't let this become Flint," Jolly said.
Jolly said, if he decided to ask, the EPA should not only investigate the environmental damage from the sewage dumps and spills, but any possible cover up at City Hall.
He said he hoped Castor would support his call for an investigation. And that Crist would, too.
Crist consultant Kevin Cate said Jolly is reacting to Crist's call to action at the debate.
"It's sad that he needed an invitation from Charlie Crist to do his job," Cate said. "I guess he finally RSVP'd to the invitation to serve."
Here is a statement from the Crist campaign:
"This is an issue of leadership. While my opponent said last night that ‘no one's asked' him to help, I'm glad today he'll consider doing his job. He said he might ask the EPA to intervene - the same EPA he's voted numerous times against funding. This crisis knows no jurisdictions. Pinellas needs help, like Flint and Louisiana. I have never needed an invitation to serve - and I never will."