ST. PETERSBURG — If the fallout after the city's wastewater dumping woes were a family food fight, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he's still getting mashed potatoes out of his ears.
The city's communication during those rain-soaked summer weeks left much to be desired, he said in a talk at Eckerd College, prompting changes in that department.
But he emphasized that new projects are in the works and on the horizon, including new pumps and expanded wastewater capacity.
"We're at a time when complaining is over," Kriseman told the mostly white-haired crowd, many of whom were members of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College. "It's time for action, and that's what we're doing as a city."
As weeks of above-average rainfall overwhelmed wastewater systems across Tampa Bay in late July and August, St. Petersburg turned to dumping. The city released more than 31 million gallons of raw and partly treated sewage into Clam Bayou, Tampa Bay and the campus of Eckerd College.
"I would have loved to have had another choice," Kriseman said.
The city's handling of the wastewater overflow angered Eckerd leadership, who lambasted the city for its lack of transparency.
"It seems, in light of recent events, very appropriate that the mayor's opponent in his first election in 2001 and subsequent re-election four years later to the City Council was a St. Pete wastewater treatment plant mechanic," Kelly Kirschner, dean of executive and continuing education at Eckerd, quipped when introducing Kriseman on Wednesday.
Kriseman said mistakes were made, and that the city has since reached out to Eckerd. An "information specialist" was also transferred from marketing to water resources to improve communication.
The mayor also detailed wastewater projects in the works, including a 15-million-gallon storage tank, two reclaimed water pumps and a new pump station. Another $1 million, drawn from $6.5 million in settlement money following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, would be directed to replacing and repairing wastewater infrastructure near environmentally sensitive areas, should the City Council approve Kriseman's plan.
Kriseman detailed his plans for the rest of the money, including taking steps to prepare the city for climate change and introducing a bike-share program to encourage decreased car use.
Several attendees pressed Kriseman on wastewater plans, asking for a stress test to see how the system performs under pressure.
"We would like to see the city do Infrastructure 101 to make sure the sewage system is in proper condition," said Walter Donnelly of the Alliance for Bayway Communities. "Six million dollars and $1 million going to sewers? Thank you for that. But bicycles, Mr. Mayor, when the city's sewers are falling apart? Please."
Contact Claire McNeill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8321.