State investigation launched into St. Pete sewage dumps
The state Department of Environmental Protection will meet with St. Petersburg city officials early this week to determine if the city violated the "bypass" or dumping provisions of its wastewater permit when it pumped nearly 10 million gallons of partially-treated sewage into Tampa Bay last week.
In a letter dated Thursday and sent to Public Works Adminstrator Claude Tankersley by DEP Southwest District Director Mary Yeargan raises concerns about a "pattern between rainfall events and discharges/bypasses."
DEP also wants to "discuss measures which you have, or need to have, in place to eliminate the discharges/bypasses that have occurred," Yeargan wrote.
Her agency has the power to take enforcement action if the city has violated the bypass violations. The city's permit allows dumps if it was "unavoidable to prevent loss of life, personal injury or severe property damage" and there were no feasible alternatives.
Not installing adequate back-up equipment isn't an excuse, the DEP wrote.
City officials have said the dumping was necessary to avoid sewage in the streets and, possibly backing up into people's homes. They didn't issue an alert to encourage residents not to flush their toilets because, Tankersley said last week, city leaders didn't want to inconvenience residents.
Tankersley said if the city had issued such an alert, as St. Pete Beach did, it might have reduced the overflow by about 10 percent.
DEP Secretary Johnathan Steverson wrote Rep. Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena Republican who called for an investigation into the city's sewer system, on Friday, saying that the city had "responded quickly" and a meeting has been scheduled with the Southwest District office for early this week.
The city said torrential rains caused by Tropical Storm Colin overwhelmed it aging, leaky system forcing it to dump 9.77 million gallons into Tampa Bay. Smaller spills from popped manhole covers in Clam Bayou also occurred.
The city pumped the partially-treated sewage, which was tested about 60 times above safe limits, into Tampa Bay between Tuesday and Thursday.
City officials didn't immediately return phone calls for comment Monday morning.