Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Against St. Pete; Others May Follow

Three non-profit environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Petersburg for  “serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act related to sewage spills” on December 2 after a 60-day notice of intent expired, according to a press release distributed by the organizations on December 5.

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc., Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation filed the notice of intent against St. Petersburg in September, followed by a similar 60-day notice of intent filed against the city of Gulfport in October and the city of Treasure Island in November.

Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper and attorney for the lawsuit, alleges the sewage infrastructure failings are a regional problem in municipalities throughout the Tampa Bay area.

“Gulfport and Treasure Island send sewage to St. Petersburg and contribute to St. Pete’s wet weather problems,” said Bloom. “During storms, Gulfport and Treasure Island’s sewage systems are overwhelmed with stormwater and high groundwater levels, flowing in through cracks and leaks that desperately need to be repaired. What is collected flows to St. Pete, which is unable to treat all the excess water from their own system as well as additional flow from other municipalities like Gulfport.”

Bloom says he is focused on the long-term environmental and public health impacts of the sewage spills and the discharges into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou, Boca Ciega Bay and other waters adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Attorney Bloom is correct in that the city of Gulfport does send its wastewater to the city of St. Petersburg for treatment,” said Gulfport City Manager James O’Reilly, but he was unable to formally comment on any potential pending legislation.

Gulfport’s 60-day notice of intent was filed on October 28 and is set to expire at the end of December.

“Gulfport has been cooperative in providing us with public records and information,” said Bloom. “We anticipate future discussions towards a negotiated settlement, but at this point it looks as if the suit will likely be filed in Federal Court in the weeks to come.”

The Treasure Island city commission discussed what steps to take at its regular commission meeting on December 6.

“We received a 60-day notice,” said Treasure Island Mayor Robert Minning. “From a city standpoint, there are a number of items in the document that we believe are not factually correct. We have instructed our city attorney, Jennifer Cowan, to reach out to Mr. Bloom informally for a discussion.”

Cowan confirmed that the city commission directed her to “reach out to Mr. Bloom regarding his concerns and obtain information from the law firm of Lewis, Longman and Walker, P.A. regarding representing the City in this matter.”

The three organizations contend they are seeking to require the cities to improve sewage infrastructure through judicial consent decrees and set a schedule to clean up discharges to local waters that is federally enforced.

“We’ve not made a decision as to whether or not or when we are going to file against Gulfport or Treasure Island, the two municipalities we’ve sent notices to besides the city of St. Petersburg,” said Bloom. “We have and continue to make public records requests for documents and continue to investigate other municipalities. No decisions have been made about future litigation.”

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