Gulfport City Council met Tuesday, February 17, for the first official council meeting since January 19. A lot of housekeeping was on the agenda, but was delayed to make way for a surprise visit from St. Petersburg District 6 Councilman Karl Nurse.
Nurse humbly told council what they already knew: that St. Petersburg’s southwest water treatment plant processes 20 million gallons per day, but water levels could peak at three-and-a-half-times that during a storm event.
“The peaks happen because there are so many cracks in our pipes where the water is coming in and manhole covers that aren’t sealed, so when the streets flood, it pours into that,” Nurse said.
But Nurse took the time to explain to council steps that St. Petersburg will be taking in the hopes to avoid another sewage dump like the one that occurred in Clam Bayou in August 2015.
“Our short-term solution is that by July, we will have a 15-million gallon tank and two new 800-gallon deep well injectors,” Nurse said.
Nurse also provided a detailed map of pipes that have been identified in St. Petersburg in need of repairs due to cracks. The map, roughly two-feet-by-four-feet, showed a vast number of repairs needed.
“All across the city we have cracked pipes,” Nurse said. “Staff has identified $45 million in repairs that need to be done in the next five years. We have funded $29 million of those in the next five years, and in the last few months, we’ve identified $7million more that we’re adding.”
Nurse added that St. Petersburg plans on doubling the amount of sewer lining they will be doing as well as freezing $5 million, or 90 percent, of their BP money that they essentially will not spend until they “get this wrestled to the ground.”
“To be blunt, we are very focused on this. You all have our 100 percent attention on this,” Nurse said. “We hear you loud and clear.”
How will St. Petersburg pay for essentially doubling their repair rate on pipes? Raising utility rates for St. Petersburg citizens. It is unclear if the higher utility rate will affect Gulfport residents.
More Money for Infrastructure Improvements
Much of council’s remaining time was focused on housekeeping.
Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into a contract with Asphalt Paving Systems, Inc., a paving company that will in charge of paving portions of 15th Avenue South, 28th Avenue South, and 11th Avenue South.
The paving will extend on 15th Avenue from 49th Street to Gulfport Boulevard while the 28th Avenue project will begin at 49th Street and end at 54th Street. 11th Avenue will be paved for three blocks from 55th Street to 58th Street. The total cost of the project is $506,505.65 according to city documents and is funded by the capital budget and BP money.
Council also unanimously passed the local mitigation strategy, which acts as the city’s floodplain management plan.
Shore Boulevard improvements are moving forward thanks to the passing of a resolution allowing the city manager to apply for the Community Development Block Grant. The grant will provide $300,000 that the city will match.
The money will go to widening the road and allow for diagonal parking on the street, adding spaces to Shore Boulevard.
Council also seemed pleased to pass a resolution adding $3.5 million to efforts of repairing Gulfport sewers via the revolving loan fund.
Arguments and Accusations
But it was not all business-as-usual for the five people who sit on the dias.
During council presentations at the end of the meeting, Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman described her plans to take action against St. Petersburg for dumping in Clam Bayou, including sit-down talks and mitigation.
Mayor Sam Henderson responded, “Here is the interesting piece of [Roman’s proposal]: The first thing it requires is that we sit down at the table and have a conversation with [St. Petersburg].”
Roman interjected, “That hasn’t happened.”
Henderson took exceptional offense to her response and exclaimed that that was a “bald-faced lie” and that a sit down “absolutely did happen.”
Henderson also accused the Vice Mayor of “grandstanding” and “always making a point of taking credit for work these people do.” Henderson claimed, “It’s offensive.”
Roman was incensed and stood up, threatening to leave the meeting. She also expressed her intention to file a formal complaint over Henderson’s statements.
“You work for Gulfport,” Roman said to Henderson. “You don’t work for the city of St. Petersburg. Get that through your head.”
The exchange continued for several moments before Councilmember Brown diplomatically motioned for an adjournment, which was seconded by Roman.
It was a rare heated moment for Gulfport City Council members, the ripples of which may be felt in what is shaping up to be a very contentious election season.
Henderson immediately took to his campaign page on Facebook with a long post on the issue, stating, “Tonight I had enough, and for better or worse I defended myself and my council against our Ward 3 Councilperson and her relentless spin of our August sewage tragedy to support her political agenda.”
Roman also used Facebook to defend her position, saying, “[… ] my work, my opinions, my recommendations and my commitments to my Community were all called into question, labeled as ‘LIES, GRANDSTANDING, taking undo CREDIT […] I take great pride in what I am doing. As such, I will bring my Clam Bayou notes, call logs, research, binders, council minutes, documents, etc., to City Hall on Monday.”
In her post, Roman encouraged people to “watch the video,” which, as with all council meetings, can be found at mygulfport.us/councilmeetings.