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St. Petersburg Gives Tours Of Sewage Plants After Spills in Tampa Bay

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Quincy Walters
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WUSF News
Craven Askew giving a tour of St. Petersburg's northeast sewage plant.

The city of St. Petersburg is under scrutiny after millions of gallons of partially-treated sewage were released into Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay during Hurricane Hermine. 

That's why the city invited the public to tour two of St Pete's sewage treatment plants on Saturday. 

When you first get to the city's northeast sewage plant, it smells as you'd expect it to. But tours of the facility were given to the public to clear the air. 

Craven Askew is the chief plant operator who blew the whistle about the city's sewage spills. 

"Anything that's overflowing has to be reported to everybody," he said. "And what we do -- we look at why we overflowed and then we fix it to find out what it was -- a pump or something broken and what we'd do is we'd call it a lesson learned and fix it."

But Mayor Rick Kriseman and the city have been criticized for not fixing the problem. Now, Kriseman said the city has a plan. 

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Credit Quincy Walters / WSUF News
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WSUF News
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman greets kids who've come to tour the facility.

"So the plan is to add significant capacity, starting with our southwest plant," Kriseman said. "We're looking at this plant here in the northeast and also our northwest plant for capacity increases." 

In addition to that, Kriseman said pipes and manholes throughout the city need to be fixed. Addressing the problem begins with getting about $100 million and educating the public, he said. 

John Palenchar , the interim director of water resources, said that infrastructure needs to improve and said tours are the first step to improving the relationship between the city and its citizens. 

"I think I see the city turning a new page towards transparency, towards getting the public involved and towards building a culture of respect a responsibility within the water resources department," Palenchar said. 

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