ST. PETERSBURG — Rental bikes or better sewers?
The City Council decided Thursday it had enough cash from its multimillion dollar settlement with energy giant BP to pay for both.
It wasn't always so. After weeks of torrential rains, the city's sewage system overflowed in August, dumping 16.5 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into Boca Ciega and Tampa bays.
For months afterward, City Council members battled Mayor Rick Kriseman. They wanted to spend most of the BP money on fixing the sewers.
Kriseman unveiled a long list of projects, including a bike share program, that he argued would be a better use of money intended to mitigate environmental damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
On Thursday, the council and mayor reached a compromise. Instead of $1 million for a bike share program, Kriseman offered $250,000. The council approved the program by a 6-2 vote.
"I appreciate you hearing my cry of 'Not too much BP money,' " said council member Jim Kennnedy.
Meanwhile, council members moved closer to accepting Kriseman's plan to bolster the sewers.
City staffers presented a sewer study that detailed up to $100 million in repairs and improvements over the next decade. Kriseman proposed spending $3.4 million on a detailed study of the sewer system to identify trouble spots, which would take about 18 months.
"We're moving in the right direction," said council member Steve Kornell, perhaps the mayor's most vocal critic following the sewage mishaps last summer.
Council members unanimously approved the plan Thursday night. Although Kriseman said it wouldn't require any BP money, some council members believed otherwise.
"It's entirely likely that by the time we throw all of those numbers on the table, filling that gap will be BP money," Nurse said.
Yet Kriseman stressed other uses for BP money.
Council members heard about the potential of a bike-friendly city in a talk by international bike and pedestrian guru Gil Penalosa, a former parks and recreation director in Bogota, Colombia.
Penalosa said St. Petersburg needs to make it safe for an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old to hop on a bike. He showed slides of cities around the world that have made their street grid more bike and pedestrian friendly.
"You have a nice city. But that can make it harder to change because people say, we like it the way it is," Penalosa said.
Soon after, council members quickly approved a bike share program that bike advocates said will make the city a greener, more attractive place.
"It's not just for tourists, this will help cement this city's reputation as not just a great place to live and work, but a great place to get around," said Bob Griendling, president of the city's advisory committee on bike issues.
Not everyone was convinced. Council members Kornell and Ed Montanari voted against the program.
Montanari questioned why the city agreed to pay all of the $1.5 million startup costs for the 300 bike program, which would cover downtown and parts of Midtown, Grand Central and other neighborhoods.
"It's an expensive way to go," Montanari said.
But several members thanked Kriseman for his compromise.
"I appreciate you bringing something that reflects the concerns of council," said council member Darden Rice.
Thursday's action reduces the original $6.5 million BP settlement to $5.75 million. Last year, the council agreed to allocate $350,000 for a pilot ferry project linking the city to Tampa and $250,000 for a new marine research vessel to replace the aging Bellows research vessel.