ST. PETERSBURG — An ordinance that would eventually force property owners to fix their broken sewer pipes advanced before City Council on Thursday.
The council voted 5-1 to set the public hearing and second reading of the proposed legislation for the Dec. 5 meeting. Council members could pass it into city law then.
If passed, then starting Jan. 1, 2021, if city workers notice a problem with a private sewer pipe, property owners would have six months — plus a 60-day extension the property owner could apply for — to have the damage inspected and, if necessary, repaired or replaced. Failure to do so could force homeowners in front of the city’s Code Enforcement Board.
Council member Gina Driscoll was the lone no vote. Driscoll said she was concerned about forcing property owners to take on expensive fixes without a rebate program in place to help offset some of the costs.
“We want to do the right thing and insist that our homeowners do the same,” she said. “But it can be a very expensive repair and I think we need to keep in mind that not everyone can shell out thousands of dollars, within a few months’ time even, to do a fix like this.”
Water Resources Director John Palenchar said city officials are beginning a pilot study to determine if the city could legally implement a rebate program.
City officers are required to pass an ordinance addressing private sewer lines by June 30, 2020, according to a state-issued consent order following the city’s 2015-16 sewage crisis. The city released up to a billion gallons of sewage, of which up to 200 million gallons made it to Tampa Bay.
Part of the problem, city officials say, was that cracked and leaky private sewer pipes — the ones that run from the public main laterally to homes on private property — can let groundwater into the wastewater system, inundating filtration and storage facilities.
But the ordinance doesn’t yet have much teeth, and city officials say it wouldn’t impact many property owners. That’s because the primary way the city is investigating broken private laterals is by smoke testing, which isn’t very effective at finding breaks in pipes buried underground.
Council members Brandi Gabbard and Steve Kornell were absent from the vote.