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State, St. Pete in final stages of consent decree on sewage dumps

St. Petersburg has dumped "north of 70 million gallons" of partially-treated sewage into Tampa Bay in the wake of Hurricane Hermine.

That figure, an estimate because a broken flow meter at the Albert Whitted sewer plant prevents an exact tally.The dumping began on Aug. 31 and ended Sept. 9.

Mayor Rick Kriseman's office released the following statement:

"As mayor and as an environmentalist, Mayor Kriseman hates that our city is having to deal with a black cloud---literally and figuratively---while so many great things are happening. But we have a plan and he is as optimistic and confident as he is outraged about this," Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby wrote in a text message.

Meanwhile, on Monday, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokewoman said that DEP is in the final stages of negotiating a consent order with the city, which should be finalized in the next few weeks.

The order would outline the steps that the city needs to take to fix its beleagured sewer system. If the city fails to follow the plan, it could face fines, said Shannon Herbon, DEP spokeswoman.

Earlier Monday, St. Petersburg city officials didn't mention a consent order when asked by the Tampa BayTimes for an updates on the DEP investigation of its sewer system. Previously, city officials have described that investigation as routine.

Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt said Monday the city would send the state another letter outlining the city's plan to spend $58 million to help improve its beleaguered system after the City Council approves the budget later this month.

He said the state was "on board" and "supportive."

Mayor Rick Kriseman's office said they didn't know anything about a consent order late Monday.

"Nobody in mayor's office or Claude or Steve have been approached by DEP with a consent order. They are pretty familiar with our plan," said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Herbon said the state uses the following criteria when considering whether to issue a consent order:

1. How serious was the violation?
2. Is it a first-time violator or a chronic offender?
3. Was the violation inadvertent or beyond their reasonable control?
4. Can the site or facility be brought back into compliance without formal enforcement?
5. Can any damage to the environment be undone or remediated quickly?

Since August 2015, the city has dumped or spilled, at a minimum, nearly 111 millon gallons of sewage.

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