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St. Pete sewer plant operator seeks whistleblower protections, saying city knew it shouldn't shutter Albert Whitted plant

A chief plant operator at the city's Northeast wastewater treatment facility on Friday sought whistleblower protection, saying the city knew sewage dumps and spills were possible if it shut down the Albert Whitted sewer plant.

A 2014 study showed that simulated models showed that a flow of 69 million gallons of sewage would "exceeded the top of the wall" for the Southwest plant, which officials said was able to replace the 12.5 million gallons of capacity from Albert Whitted, which was shut down in 2015, Craven R. Askew contended in an 11-page letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman, City Council members and other senior city staffers.

Last August, high flows at Southwest caused more than 30 million gallons to overflow from the plant into Clam Bayou, Eckerd College and surrounding neighborhoods.

After that spill, Mayor Rick Kriseman said he preferred to dump into Tampa Bay rather than risk future spills at Southwest. Since then, more than 111 million gallons have been discharged into the bay.

Overall, the city has dumped or spilled more than 190 million gallons since Albert Whitted closed.

Askew said Albert Whitted should be reopened until a multi-million dollar expansion of the Southwest plant is completed. That expansion is expected to be complete in summer 2018.

"Albert Whitted plants needs to be placed back into service until (Southwest) completes the required upgrades for the sake of Public Health and Environmental impact of sewage spills," Askew wrote.

Askew couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Askew is 44-years-old and has been employed by the city since May 2010, although he worked for three months for the city in 2008. He has been the plant operator at the Northeast plant since February 2012, according to city records.

As chief operator of one of the city's three wastewater treatment plants, Askew is an experienced employee and one of the highest-ranking wastewater employees.

"Given that's it's a whistleblower action, I'm going to reserve comment until I can talk with the City Attorney's office and Human Resources," said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Just before 10 a.m., Kirby said he didn't think Kriseman had seen the email, sent at 6:05 a.m. The mayor had a busy morning, including a business breakfast, Kirby said.

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