ST. PETERSBURG — A two-month face-off over a $6.5 million windfall appears to have ended for now as the City Council agreed to parts of Mayor Rick Kriseman's wish list on Thursday.
The council agreed to earmark $600,000 to a pilot ferry project linking St. Petersburg and Tampa's downtowns and a new research vessel to replace an aging ship operated by the Florida Institute of Oceanography.
In exchange, city staff delayed a multimillion-dollar fueling station to free up $3 million to expedite repairs on sewers.
Since Kriseman unveiled a long list of projects in October that were to be financed by a settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, council members have balked at paying for things like a bike share program, arts endowment or climate change planning.
Most council members wanted to spend more money on the city's antiquated sewer system, which was swamped during heavy rains this summer. The city was forced to dump more than 31 million gallons of raw or untreated sewage into Boca Ciega and Tampa bays.
Council members on Thursday, however, agreed to set aside BP money for the ferry and research vessel as long as other local and state entities stepped up with their own contributions.
City Administrator Gary Cornwell said the city wanted its $350,000 share to start a ferry service from October through April using one or two vessels, depending on how much money can be cobbled together.
"I can't go to other member governments and ask for a commitment from them if we can't make it ourselves," Kriseman said.
Cornwell said $1 million should be enough to bring one ferry from a northern city, where traffic slows in the winter months, while $1.5 million should be enough for two.
"It might not work," Kriseman said. "Sometimes you have to try to see if something works."
Another $250,000 was set aside to help build a new marine science research vessel to replace the 71-foot R/V Bellows, which spends about 150 days a year at sea.
William Hogarth, who heads up the institute, said he is working with other universities to raise money and hopes state money will be available, too.
In June, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $6 million appropriation by state lawmakers to build a state-of-the-art 78-foot ship because he said the state university system had enough cash to build it.
Council member Darden Rice said the money would be well spent.
"If there is any project to use BP funds, I think this would be the one," she said.
As council compromised, so did Kriseman. The administration agreed to delay construction of a natural-gas fueling station for city vehicles and put that money to work fixing sewers. City officials said contractors are only able to do about $3 million of work in a year.
"This is where I say, 'Thank you,' " said council member Karl Nurse, who had led the fight to dedicate BP money for sewer repair. "It's not everything we need, but it's a significant upgrade."
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.