ST. PETERSBURG — After months of suffocating barriers, stop-and-go traffic and a number of accidents, drivers in the Greater Pinellas Point and Lakewood neighborhoods are getting some relief.
The disruption along 31st Street and 54th Avenue S is at an end, but work in other neighborhoods will continue as part of a massive $35 million sewer project wending its way from the Albert Whitted Airport water reclamation plant to another facility 7.2 miles away near Eckerd College.
"I'm very thankful that they are wrapping up their work and we can get back to the norm," said Jodi Davis, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association, whose northern boundary is 54th Avenue S.
"I need a new alignment for my car," Davis said, "but it's all for a good reason."
The multimillion-dollar project involves laying 30-inch pipes to carry wastewater — a euphemism for the stuff from toilets, showers, sinks, dishwashers and washing machines — from Albert Whitted to the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility off Pinellas Bayway.
The airport facility — St. Petersburg's oldest and smallest — dates to 1925, when the city flushed its treated wastewater into Tampa Bay, a practice that continued through the 1970s.
Public works administrator Mike Connors said the project has environmental and financial benefits. It also has the advantage of "freeing up 7 acres of waterfront property and eliminating a very vintage facility" that could be damaged by hurricanes and tropical storms, he said.
The work that began in May and is expected to be complete in 2015, will save the city more than $30 million over 20 years, Connors said. The savings will come primarily from reduced maintenance and operation costs at the aging Albert Whitted plant, which will be decommissioned in 2015, he said.
Three years ago, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the city permission to continue using its injection wells that dispose treated wastewater not used for irrigation 1,000 feet below ground. A condition of the permit was that St. Petersburg had to retreat water that didn't meet certain water quality requirements at the Albert Whitted facility before sending it below ground.
"That would have required us to purchase land and build a large storage facility at the estimated expense of $10 million," Connors said. "We started looking at the capacity of our other three plants to avoid the $10 million and future maintenance and operation costs."
The Southwest facility can handle 20 million gallons of wastewater a day, but treats only about 10 million gallons, Connors said. The Albert Whitted plant, which serves an area from 34th Street to Tampa Bay, between 30th Avenue N and 20th Avenue S, currently treats about 6 million gallons a day.
The airport plant will be replaced with a lift station that will pump wastewater to the Southwest facility. Construction of the lift station is under way and is expected to be completed in about 10 months.
Not everyone welcomed the plan to pump sewage from Albert Whitted to the Southwest plant. Two years ago, residents near the Southwest plant tried to persuade City Council members to reconsider the project, raising concerns about noise and odors.
"It already smells," said Davis of Pinellas Point, noting that the plant is too far away to affect her neighborhood.
"I certainly hope that as part of the upgrades the direct neighbors of the project don't have to smell that," she said.
Connors said the city will use a combination of chemicals in sewer lines, along with enclosures and containment at the plant to combat smells.
"We're spending several million dollars at the Southwest plant to reduce odors," he said.
While roads are being torn up for the project, other underground water and sewer lines in close proximity and in need of replacement or relocation are also being installed. Roadwork associated with the project will continue through the holidays.
Thomas Gibson, the city's director of engineering and capital improvements, said seven construction crews are involved.
"We are getting to be about halfway done," he said. "By springtime, we should be in pretty good shape, if everything keeps going well. . . . We don't want to have it drag it on."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.