ST. PETERSBURG — Last week, City Council members grumbled their fears that Mayor Rick Kriseman had already decided how to spend the city's $6.5 million in settlement money from BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
So they scheduled a meeting for this Thursday to discuss how to divvy it up.
But Kriseman beat them to the punch, releasing a laundry list of projects Tuesday that spends the city's share of a $21 billion settlement between the giant oil company and five gulf states, including Florida. Local governments are slated to receive $1 billion.
Among the items on Kriseman's list:
• $1 million for a bike-share program.
• $350,000 toward a private commuter ferry that would cross Tampa Bay.
• $1 million for an arts endowment.
• $250,000 to help the University of South Florida buy a new marine research vessel.
Kriseman isn't trying to pre-empt the council, said his spokesman, Ben Kirby.
"The mayor sees it as his prerogative to lay out what his priorities would be," Kirby said.
Council member Karl Nurse said the mayor is shortchanging the most pressing need: massive repairs to an aging sewer system that led to the dumping of more than 31 million gallons of wastewater during heavy rains this summer.
"Typically, administrations have the same attitude: 'We don't want to talk about money until we've decided how to spend it,' " he said. "These are all nice things. The bad news is when you measure them against immediate needs for $6 million to repair sewer pipes. When we're dumping raw sewage, I don't see why we should help USF buy a research vessel."
The mayor did include $1 million for wastewater infrastructure repair.
Nurse said he will fight to increase that to at least $3 million. "Candidly, it really should be all of it," Nurse said.
But council member Darden Rice, chairwoman of the council's Energy, Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee, said she was pleased with Kriseman's priorities and thought the emphasis on a range of environmental issues was appropriate.
"I don't think the wastewater crisis constitutes a raid on all BP funds," Rice said.
Rice especially likes the $1.4 million dedicated to preparing the city for rising sea levels and other climate change challenges.
"I did cartwheels when I saw that," Rice said.
Kriseman outlined his priorities in a memo sent to council members Tuesday. In the document, he said the money should be used for "one-time expenses" to prepare the city for a future of climate change, natural disasters and other environmental challenges.
"The certainty of disruptive occurrences such as natural disasters, environmental upsets and other shocks and stressors that challenge our city's infrastructure is an inevitable reality," Kriseman wrote.
Some other items on the mayor's list:
• $1.2 million for a plan to cope with extreme weather and climate change, part of the proposal Rice likes.
• $250,000 for an action plan to create a road map toward creating a carbon-neutral city.
• $1 million to retrofit city infrastructure to make streetlights, windows and heating and air conditioning systems in city buildings more energy efficient.
• $266,250 to purchase a home adjacent to the Shore Acres Recreation Center to clear the way for building a new rec center.
• $125,000 to purchase and plant about 250 trees in all eight City Council districts.
Kriseman will announce his plan at 11 a.m. today at the Water Resources Department, 1650 Third Ave. N, but that's not likely to be the end of the discussion.
Council members will offer their plans for the money at a meeting Thursday morning.
Nurse said he's not prepared to just "nibble around the edges" of Kriseman's proposals.
"Bike share, leaky sewer pipes. To me, that's not even close," Nurse said. "There are some basic jobs a city has to do. Taking away dirty water is one of those jobs."
Rice said she appreciated Kriseman "framing the discussion" for the council.
"Face it, we've seen what council does when ideas just flop around on the table and council has unlimited time to talk about it," she said. "I think this is a serious investment for a serious goal."
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450. Follow @CharlieFrago.