ST. PETERSBURG — The U.S. Conference of Mayors named St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman the chair of the organization’s environmental committee, bolstering the mayor’s claim to environmental stewardship even as the city continues to deal with fallout from the sewage crisis.
“I’ve always found Rick to be thoughtful,” said Rochester Hills, Mich., Mayor Bryan Barnett, president of the Conference of Mayors. “The coastal mayors are always talking about the impacts of the environment to their particular communities.”
Kriseman’s responsibilities as chair include attending meetings and leading the committee that sets the conference’s environmental policy. He may also speak on behalf of the conference on environmental issues.
City officials announced Kriseman’s selection to the post late Friday, releasing the news via social media:
“Under Mayor Kriseman, St. Pete has become a national leader in the fight against climate change and sea level rise, as illustrated by our commitment to clean energy, our Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, and our unprecedented investment in our infrastructure, among other initiatives,” officials wrote on St. Petersburg’s Facebook page.
The post garnered notes of congratulation and praise for Kriseman in the comments, and also wails from folks who felt the title was undeserved given the performance of the city’s sewage system during the 2015-16 sewage crisis. City pipes pumped, dumped and leaked up to a billion gallons, some 200 million of which made it to Tampa Bay.
The state issued a consent order following the crisis, and the city committed to spending $326 million to fix the aging system. Yet issues compound, and as recently as last month, the city pumped more than 6 million gallons of partially-treated sewage into the Floridan aquifer through an injection well. City officials say the system performed better during August’s rain than it had in years past.
Barnett and U.S. Conference of Mayors officials both said they didn’t know about the crisis before the appointment, and Kriseman’s sewage record did not come into play. Conference officials said many cities face infrastructure issues.
Barnett called it a “privilege” to appoint Kriseman, whom he has known for about five years.
“I think he’s been a strong voice on environmental matters," Barnett said.
A 2017 report published by state officials after the sewage crisis criticized Kriseman’s decisions leading up to and during the crisis.
Yet Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor’s “leadership during and after the crisis" stands as an example to his peers.
“His leadership in tackling a problem that was based on neglect, years and years of neglect, serves as a great example to his fellow mayors,” Kirby said, citing the $326 million investment.