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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council committee agrees to $3.4 million to study sewer fix



The city's sewer system isn't perfect, but it could be worse. 

That was the verdict delivered by Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley, summarizing a consultant study prompted by last summer's heavy rains, which overwhelmed the system and resulted in 16.5 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage dumped into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays.

Still,upgrading the capacity of the city's three sewer treatment plants, fixing leaky pipes and increasing storage capacity for wastewater could cost up to $100 million over the next eight years.

The first bill, initially approved by the council's Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee on Thursday, isn't quite so steep.

The comittee approved $3.4 million for a comprehensive study to find the system's weak points in its 800-plus miles of pipe and recommend fixes. The measure willl be voted on in a formal council vote later today.

Determining what exactly needs to be fixed is the most cost-efffective way to do it, officials said.

"You've heard the term: Measure twice and cut once," Tankersley said.

Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city needs to prepare for climate change and rising seas. Increasing the capacity of the city's wastewater system to keep sewage from being dumped is crucial, he said.

"We can't stick our heads in the sand. We have to take action," Kriseman said.

Kriseman said the $3.4 million study wouldn't need to be paid for with BP settlement money. The money can be found through bond issues and other sources, he said.

Whether or not to tap into the more than $6 million in funds paid to the city from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster to fix the city's sewer system has been a flashpoint point between Kriseman and the City Council.

On Thursday, the council seemed amenable to Kriseman's plan--for now. Later today, council members will consider a $500,000 program to begin a bike share program with BP money.

But the details on where the money will come from in the budget or on the bond markets are still unclear. On Thursday, Tankersley promised to provide at least some information by next week.

Council member Karl Nurse, who has long advocated that the BP money be used to fix the sewers, wasn't convinced that it can be done without tapping that cash.

"I think it's entirely likely that by the time we throw alll of those numbers on the table, filling that gap will be BP money," Nurse said.

The study should be completed within 18 months, Tankersley said. 

Overall, council members seemed more confident in the mayor's handling of sewer issues.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," said council member Steve Kornell, who has been the most vocal critic of the mayor's response to the sewage spills.

[Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2016 6:35pm]


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