Saturday, February 17, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Drip, drip, drip goes St. Petersburg's sewer mess

When you get right down to it, the job description for the mayor of any city is pretty easily defined.

There are three basic things the mayor has to do: A) maintain the roads and street lights, B) keep criminal mayhem to a minimum and C) when it rains make sure icky poo-poo water doesn't flood the city.

Everything else — fancy museums, iconic piers, parades, ribbon cuttings, inspiring speeches and stadiums — are all very nice. But they begin to take on less importance if the citizenry finds itself scraping off …, well you know, from their shoes whenever it rains and the byways turn into the Ganges River. Too nuanced?

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has found himself in a pollution pickle after an estimated 200 million gallons of partially treated and untreated sewage water poured into Tampa Bay and other waters during a spate of heavy storms in recent months. Think of this as a Whitman's Sampler of sewage.

Caught in a swirl of accusations he mishandled the situation, Kriseman started a purge of the city's wastewater treatment operation, including department officials Steve Leavitt and Tom Gibson, who have been put on unpaid leave while hizzoner attempts to squeegee his way out of the problem.

Another wastewater employee, Craven Askew, has filed for whistleblower protection. Former Public Works administrator Mike Connors has come to the defense of the disciplined workers. It's a mess of a mess.

At issue is what did Kriseman know and when did he know it? And it also depends on whom you want to believe.

The debate seems to turn on a rather prescient 2014 consultants report that raised serious concerns over the wisdom of shutting down the Albert Whitted treatment plant, which reduced the city's capability to handle massive overflows in the wake of intense storms. Kriseman and the City Council insist they never saw the 2014 report. The mayor has defended showing Leavitt and Gibson the door because he was unsatisfied with how the information was shared with him.

In any event, the buck and the muck eventually does stop at the mayor's desk.

You don't need to be legendary urban planner Robert Moses to grasp the obvious that by shutting down the Albert Whitted facility, regardless of its shortcomings, you would be increasing the risks to the city's capability to handle sewage overflows during major storm events.

The massive sewage dumps have underscored systemic problems throughout the city's roughly 900 miles of sewer pipes, some of them almost as old as St. Petersburg itself, even on days when there is no significant rainfall. That reality is based on another consultant's report detailing overflow vulnerabilities across St. Petersburg.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that finally the mayor and City Council have taken note of a consultant's study, suggesting perhaps the nearly thousand mile journey to at last addressing lingering infrastructure problems in St. Petersburg begins with a drip, drip, drip.

Comments
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18
Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Immigrants brought into this country illegally as children by their parents may be wondering whom to trust. The political theater being played out in Washington hasnít settled the status of either the "Dreamers" or the estimated 11 million other undo...
Published: 02/13/18
Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

While it came as little surprise, the Tampa Bay Raysí selection of an Ybor City site near Tampaís Channel District as the best spot for a new stadium is an important milestone in the effort to keep Major League Baseball. Now comes the hard work of de...
Published: 02/09/18
Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

After pummeling public education so soundly last year, itís little surprise Republican state legislators are mounting another attack on public schools, teachers and local districts. The mammoth education bill passed by the House last week is loaded w...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/13/18