City Fights Lawsuit, Mooring Field Gets Funds

The city of Gulfport is being sued and they’re taking action.

At the council meeting on Tuesday, February 21, they approved a $25,000 litigation insurance deductible fee. On the same day, they filed a motion to dismiss the civil lawsuit filed against it by three non-profit environmental groups for sewage spills that allegedly violate the federal Clean Water Act.

On January 4, 2017, the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, received a lawsuit from Suncoast Waterkeeper of Sarasota and two other groups out of California against Gulfport for what they claim are “illegal discharges of raw or partially treated sewage (into) waters adjoining Gulfport” during a time period from January 12, 2009 to “violations occurring after November 2, 2015 and assessed on or after August 1, 2016.”

“The city of Gulfport did nothing wrong,” said City Attorney Andrew Salzman said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We’re just another cog in their wheel of more than one municipality that they’re seeking” damages against.

The law firm of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, LLP has been retained to defend Gulfport.

According to a court document filed February 21, 2017, on February 20, 2017, a member of the law firm’s Los Angeles office “attempted to confer with the plaintiff’s counsel by telephone and e-mail regarding” the motion to dismiss the case. “On February 21, 2017, after further e-mails and telephone calls, we could not reach an agreement.”

Gulfport has also recently filed a motion with the court to consolidate their lawsuit with a related one against St. Petersburg by the same plaintiffs dated December 2, 2016. Documents filed with the court state, “On February 22, 2017, the court will conduct a hearing on Gulfport’s motion to transfer and consolidate the two actions.”

Consolidation would mean the participating cities would have “joint defenses, which is always helpful and saves money,” said Salzman.

Besides St. Petersburg and Gulfport, what other cities “are in this process?” asked Councilmember Yolanda Roman.

“Two other cities have received letters in regards to the intent,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “There’s also been discussion in the public domain about even a fifth city and that would be South Pasadena. A big issue with this is we all send our sewage to St. Petersburg for treatment. So, that seems to be the sprocket on the spokes that we all [share].”

The Gabber will continue to follow this developing story.

See related Gabber story from January 11, 2017.

View the January 4, 2017 lawsuit against Gulfport document and the February 21, 2017 motion by Gulfport to dismiss.

Mooring Field Funding Package Approved

Council members unanimously approved a $350,00 initial funding package for the planned mooring field and bay management project that has been years in the making.

“My predecessor, Tom Brobeil, thought it was a good idea for the environment starting in 2004” said O’Reilly in an interview on February 21 regarding the number of vessels anchored off Gulfport’s beach, and the fact that some were not utilizing their self-contained toilet facilities. “Personally, I’ve been working on this project since the summer of 2004.”

Funding sources include $100,000 in BP monies from Pinellas County; from $35,000 to $100,000 in BP funds from the city of Gulfport; $40,000 in grant monies from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Clean Vessel Act program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and, the balance of the of the project monies are expected to come from a grant from the Florida Boating Improvement Program, which the city is applying for. Said O’Reilly on February 7, “We’ll know the result of the application by July 2017.”

Street Parking Signs Up for Debate Again April 7

Due to area residents’ opinions and a recently signed petition presented to council on February 21, council agreed to revisit the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club area issue for the third time. The affected residential area is on 27th Avenue S. between 58th Street and 59th Street, and from 27th Avenue S. to Gulfport Blvd.

“Hopefully, for the final time, let’s go back to considering” the options, said Mayor Sam Henderson. “Let’s bring this up again, alter the resolution and just take the vote again.”

On June 21, 2016, council acted on a petition from citizens and approved a time-limited no parking zone on public streets to address driveways and roadways being blocked by contractor vehicles waiting to enter the gated and private country club community. Parking was prohibited between 7 to 9 a.m. on 59th Street S. between Gulfport Boulevard S. and 27th Avenue S.

On February 7, reacting to residents who had complained about parking inconveniences, council passed a resolution to remove all parking signs in the area.

Now, on April 7, council will formally revisit the issue.

(There will be no council meeting on March 21. Due to pending certification of municipal elections and the fact that at least one member of the council will be out of town on city business, there will not be a quorum.)

“My recommendations would not change from the [February 7] meeting,” said O’Reilly. “We’ll give you the four options again.”

The original four options are:
1. Do nothing; leave in place the regulations and signage as approved last year.
2. Remove the regulation entirely and revert to conditions as they were prior to last year. (This is the option the council approved on February 7, 2017.)
3. Amend the regulations so they apply only to a certain portion of the roadway.
4. Amend the regulations so that parking in the impacted area requires a resident permit.

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