Advertisement
  1. News

Romano: Is it still environmentally conscious if it's based on a sham?

Construction has been ongoing at St. Petersburg's southwest sewage plant near Eckerd College. The city is working on a project that will convert biosolidste into energy, but City Council members just learned the cost will be higher than expected and the project will not produce as much energy as anticipated. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Apr. 26, 2018

Let's discuss biosolids waste. I promise, it won't be gross or boring.

No, this is more of a how-did-we-lose-money-again bedtime story.

Our tale begins around 2006 when St. Pete officials began exploring a biosolids project. The city was eventually going to have to upgrade its disposal system and this plan would cut down on costs while producing energy and being environmentally sound.

To put it in a timeline:

• Consultants in 2011 initially said construction costs would be $42 million.

• By 2013, the price had risen to roughly $67 million.

• Even though the costs had increased, the City Council was told by staffers and consultants in 2016 that the project would eventually save taxpayers $31.6 million over a 20-year span.

• Today? Yeah, not so much.

The new configuration for costs is around $84 million, there won't be as much energy produced and much of the $31.6 million in savings has gone bye-bye.

Guess whose utility rates may also go up?

"Now that it's too late to stop it, we're getting the full numbers,'' said City Council member Steve Kornell, who was the only one to vote against proceeding with the project in 2016. "I know staff will say that wasn't their intent, but it certainly does raise questions for me.''

I promised I wouldn't bore you with the details, so here's the basic explanation:

Because this project has evolved over several administrations, and because city staff had a shakeup during the sewage crisis in 2015-16, it seems some of the projections were calculated differently.

Specifically, current public works administrator Claude Tankersley says he is using updated figures and is including all of the ancillary costs.

So, essentially, the figures given to City Council members in 2016 were based on 2011 projections that were kinda suspect to begin with.

"I wouldn't have voted for this if I had known the savings weren't going to materialize,'' council member Ed Montinari said during last week's council meeting.

Now this tale isn't entirely one-sided.

The original $31.6 million in savings was a comparison to the status quo if the city did nothing. Tankersley, who arrived in St. Pete after the council made its decision, points out that costs for the status quo have also gone up.

And he suspects that, after more analysis, the city will discover it could still save some of that original $31.6 million.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin says it's important to understand that the main reason the cost savings has nearly evaporated is because Tankersley has insisted on using accurate accounting.

But, taking a step back, that pretty much means council members were misled in 2016.

"Changes are going to happen with any major project,'' said council member Amy Foster. "It's the idea that this is a big project with major risks and benefits to the public, and council is just now hearing that we were basing decisions on artificial numbers.

"This is one of the biggest projects in the city, and frankly it looks like nobody was paying attention.''

The shame of it all is that the project could have stood on its own. The city was eventually going to have to do upgrades, this technology is more cutting edge and it has an environmental benefit.

Yet, by playing fast and loose with the numbers, it now feels more like a scam than a step forward.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  3. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
  4. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, listens to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ  |  AP
    Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg started the climate strike movement with her lone protest in front of her country’s parliament.
  5. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  9. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement