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Early Closure Of St. Pete Plant Led To Sewage Spill, Lawmakers Say

Sep 21, 2016
Originally published on September 21, 2016 9:29 am

Members of Pinellas County's legislative delegation say the early closure of a sewage plant is a main reason why the city of St. Petersburg had to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay during Hurricane Hermine.

At a delegation workshop Tuesday city officials explained that the Albert Whitted plant near downtown could still be running today, but closed in April 2015. At the time, city officials told the state another sewage plant in the southwest part of the city could handle the additional load.

Senator Jack Latvala -- who called the meeting -- says he still wants to know who is responsible for the closure that led to the massive release of sewage into local waters and streets.

“Did we hear St. Pete say they shouldn’t have closed the plant before the next one was online? No, but I think we all know that as a result of what was said today,” Latvala said. “The question is who knew what when.”

At the meeting held on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, lawmakers heard officials from wastewater plants from across Pinellas County propose alternatives to deal future sewage spills.

Ideas included placing barges and floating treatment plants in Tampa Bay to hold sewage during major storm events. Largo's environmental services director says half of the problem is caused by deteriorating pipes from homes that connect to the public system.

Latvala says fixing those pipes, called lateral sewer lines, could be part of a state law to require an inspection before homes are sold. 

“If you need a state law that says you ought to have the laterals checked before a piece of property is sold than that could be something we could talk about,” Latvala said.

The delegation plans to meet again in 60 days to talk about solutions, including possible legislation.   

Julio Ochoa is a reporter for WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.