St. Petersburg has been plagued by sewage spills since 2015, and now, part of the solution has some residents nervous that they might have to spend thousands to fix sewer pipes on their property.
The major spills -- in St. Petersburg's case, in 2015 and 2016 -- occur when heavy rains flow into cracked and leaking sewer pipes, a process called infiltration and intrusion. The problem peaked after the city shut down one of its sewage processing plants, leaving it with less capacity to process waste.
The city has since budgeted $300 million to repair its public pipes to comply with a state environmental consent order. Now it is turning to property owners, another requirement of the consent order.
“We're asking people to understand that not only is this required of us, what it's really hoping to do is make folks aware of this issue,” said Ben Kirby, the city's spokesman. “Now it's time to determine how much of that infiltration and intrusion problem rests with the citizens and work with them to get that problem fixed.”
Getting the sewer lines, called laterals, fixed or replaced could cost anywhere from a typical several thousand dollars to as much as $30,000, depending on the circumstances. For many homeowners, who likely have no idea of the shape their sewer pipes are in, those figures are understandably scary.
St. Petersburg City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes said he and his colleagues understand that fear. He said they will work to find some relief or assistance.
“This isn't the end of it. It's the beginning,” Gerdes said. “And we are working on lots of ideas, including requesting funding from the state and grants from other places to create a fund that would help private property owners deal with this.”
If approved, the ordinance would go into effect in 2021. If a property owner was found by city workers to have leaking pipes, the owner would have six months to get them evaluated and repaired or replaced. The owner could get a 60-day extension on top of that.
The ordinance does not spell out a regular inspection system. Instead, it says that homeowners will be required to repair or replace aging pipes if a licensed plumbing contractor or city workers observe evidence of leaks from private pipes.
“If we come to your property and find out you have this lateral line, it's not a cheap thing to fix or repair or replace,” Gerdes said. “And so we want to come up with the right solution to help our residents do that."
The city already has a pilot lateral line replacement project underway in the Maximo Moorings and Greater Pinellas Point neighborhoods. Residents there who want to learn the state of their private pipes can schedule an inspection online at the city’s website.
City Council members are discussing the ordinance Thursday afternoon at 2 at the Sunshine Center, with a public hearing on it set for Dec. 5.