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City Council wants answers, review of St. Petersburg's wastewater woes

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg's beleaguered sewers, which dumped 16.5 million gallons into Boca Ciega Bay and Tampa Bay during recent heavy rains, are coming under scrutiny by the City Council.

Council members Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse have sewage-related items on Thursday's meeting agenda.

The city closed its wastewater plant next to Albert Whitted Airport in April, sending the sewage from downtown and other northern neighborhoods south to its Southwest plant. That plant was overwhelmed earlier this month, forcing a sewage dump that eventually ended up in Boca Ciega Bay.

Kornell is asking for an independent engineering review of the Southwest plant, including an analysis of how the flow from the partly reopened Albert Whitted plant should be split between the city's other two plants in the northwest and northeast. He also is asking the city to stop work on the bio-solids project at the plant until the study is complete.

"We need to make sure we're doing this right. The costs are very negative for our environment," Kornell said Friday.

The Albert Whitted plant shouldn't have been shut down before a 15 million gallon storage tank was completed at the Southwest facility, Kornell said, adding that he is more concerned about avoiding future sewage dumps. And he's concerned about city staffers giving council members all the available information. They neglected to inform him of a study examining the viability of dispersing waste among the three remaining plants when Albert Whitted was shuttered, he said.

"I think we need to slow down. Legitimate questions have been raised about this project and they've been ignored every step of the way," Kornell said.

Nurse is asking city staffers to provide an analysis of how the city's infrastructure performed during the recent heavy rains. The storm served as "best practice" for what the city could expect in a hurricane or tropical storm, he wrote in a memo.

A review could identify where the city could improve its sewer and stormwater capabilities, he wrote.

Meanwhile, the city is bracing for more stormy weather this weekend. Two tanks, totaling 15 million gallons, have been drained of reclaimed water to add storage capacity. Water Resources Department employees are on call throughout the weekend, said Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.