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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete moving ahead with short-term sewage fix

14

July

The St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pay $400,000 to get an additional three million gallons of emergency sewage storage at its shuttered waterfront plant.

The fix is only designed to last until the city's Southwest sewer plant is expanded to 2 1/2 times it current capacity. That $35 million project is at least two years away.

By repairing and repurposing some reclaimed water and digester tanks at the Albert Whitted plant, which opened in the 1920s, the city will have the extra storage by the end of the year, a consultant said.

"There's no guarantee it's going to be enough, but it's something," said Eric Peters, the engineering consultant who studied possible options for the plant, which closed last year.

Other, more expensive options, which ranged from $13 million to $43 million in upgrades or a completely new plant didn't excite council members.

They were more interested in getting something in place quickly.

If the Albert Whitted repairs had been in place for June's Tropical Storm Colin, then the city would have dumped 7 million gallons of partially-treated sewage --somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of it raw--into Tampa Bay, said Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley.

Last August, the city spilled or dumped 31.5 million gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage after weeks of heavy rains.

Tankersley made it clear that he had tired of discussing the June dump. 

"We live in a world where it's so easy to be armchair quarterbacks," Tankersley said. "We've spent too much time mired in the past."

Council member Charlie Gerdes, who said he regrets his 2011 vote to close Albert Whitted, said he would like to see Albert Whitted stay open even after the Southwest plant's expansion is complete.

"I want to go overboard safe," Gerdes said.

In the meantime, said council member Darden Rice, residents should be prepared for more spills and dumps.

"It's important to caution people that even though we're working as fast as we can now, we have to be realistic that we can be slammed again," she said.

Tankersley said he thought the city could pay for the Albert Whitted storage from unspent department funds. 

[Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2016 1:18pm]

    

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