ST. PETERSBURG — An experiment to clean up local waterways has proven successful enough that it may spread throughout the city.
Early versions of Mark Maksimowicz's Watergoat are in place at Mirror Lake, Crescent Lake and Third Street S at Bayboro Harbor. Donated several years ago, the floating booms have been effective at collecting solid trash after it flows out of stormwater pipes, city officials say.
Now Maksimowicz's company, New Earth Industries, has developed a version of his invention that can absorb other pollutants, including motor oil, through a chemical absorbent material that traps hydrocarbons and converts them into a jellylike solid.
He plans to donate the first one to Mirror Lake on Feb. 23, and hopes to sell the city two dozen more in months to come.
It is part of a green business plan that Maksimowicz thinks can be successful for him and inexpensive for the city. He also wants the city's permission to float a 24-foot trash-collecting boat from Coffee Pot Bayou to Lassing Park. The boat and its crew would be paid for by advertising sales.
At $1,600 each, which comes to $38,400 for two dozen, the devices are a bargain, said public works administrator Mike Connors.
"If we embark on this relationship, it would be an enhancement to our environmental initiatives for keeping our waterways clean," said Connors.
Maksimowicz has been involved in local water cleaning efforts for years. He founded the Green Armada, a trash collection boat that plies local waters. No longer involved in that effort, Maksimowicz has since sold or donated versions of the Watergoat to various municipalities and businesses.
Maksimowicz donated one of the improved Watergoats to Largo, which put it at Lake Judy Lee. Three months ago, the city bought another one (a different version than St. Petersburg would buy) for $800 and installed it at Lake Killarney.
"We have taken samples and it has reduced nitrogen levels at Judy Lee," said Bob Nowak, Largo's street and stormwater manager.
Connors said the existing devices at two St. Petersburg lakes have been effective. Trash at the lakes is collected by neighborhood groups, and students from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg collect it at Bayboro Harbor. Maksimowicz said hundreds of pounds of solid waste are collected monthly.
Under the terms of the Maksimowicz's proposal, the city would choose where to install the devices at 24 of the city's 650 stormwater outfall pipes. Maksimowicz would service and maintain the devices, including recycling the trash, for two years. He estimates about 1,000 pounds of trash a week.
City Council member Karl Nurse said the proposal is appealing, considering that the city does not have the staff to fetch trash out of its waterways.
"If it actually works in any fragment of what they are talking about,'' Nurse said, "it would be a big deal."
Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727)892-2271. Researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story.