Gulfport homeowners now have the chance to apply for up to a $3,500 reimbursement toward the cost of fully replacing their private lateral sewer line thanks to a unanimous vote by council members during their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 3.
The program begins April 4 and is “expected to prevent laterals from contributing to or causing failure of the public sanitary sewer system,” according to city documents.
A total of $127,500 is coming from the city as the result of an agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. Offering the private sewer lateral program to owner-occupied homeowners is in lieu of paying a civil penalty to the state of Florida as the result of the city making discharges to the sanitary sewer system during two 2016 storm events. According to the National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report, Hurricane Hermine was from August 28 to September 3, 2016 and Matthew was from September 28 to October 9, 2016.
Residents would need to fill out an application, obtain an estimate to replace their entire lateral line, pay for a city construction permit, use a licensed plumber of their choice, have the work pass a city inspection and pay the contractor, said O’Reilly. In coordinating with city staff on a first-come, first-served basis, homeowners can qualify for a rebate of 50 percent of a project’s replacement cost up to a maximum of $3,500 until the fund monies are expended, said O’Reilly.
According to city documentation, the total cost to repair a private lateral sewer line is estimated to be from $2,000 to $5,000. If the maximum of $3,500 were awarded to each homeowner, a total of about 36 homeowners would be helped.
There are about 4,000 private lateral sewer lines connected to the municipal system, said O’Reilly.
“Clearly, there’s going to be a lot more” homeowners that need help, said Mayor Sam Henderson. These are “households we couldn’t help before. That money was going to be leaving our pockets anyway so let’s keep it at home. Hopefully, people will take us up” on this program, he said.
To be proactive, and before obtaining an estimate, homeowners can inspect the cleanout cap in their yard to make sure it is in working order and is not crushed, said O’Reilly. Standing water in a yard would also be an obvious sign that a problem exists.
Dandelions that are taller in one area than others would also be an indicator, quipped Henderson.
Houses built in the 1970s or before due to aging pipes, in addition to properties with large tree roots located close to lateral sewer lines of any type, would be prime candidates for this program, said Gulfport Director of Public Works Tom Nicholls.
For more information about the program, call the city at 727-893-1000.
Depending on homeowner interest over the next year, several councilmembers expressed an interest in extending the reimbursement program if additional funding could be allocated.
Fourth of July Event Increases in Size
For the past three years, the cities of Gulfport and St. Petersburg have been partnering to achieve economies of scale benefits when obtaining bids for their separate shows, said Gulfport’s Cultural Facilities and Events Supervisor Justin Shea, who is coordinating the July 4th fireworks event. For 2018, Creative Pyrotechnics of Orlando was chosen.
As a result, Gulfport’s traditional 20-minute show, that includes amplified patriotic and festive music, will consist of a total of 4,193 display shells fired from Williams Pier, an increase of 207 shells or 5.2 percent from 2017. The total 2018 show cost is $25,000 while in 2017 it was $23,000, an increase of 8.7 percent.
New this year will be a pre-finale display near the end of the program lasting 30 seconds containing a total of 645 shells. A 60-second, four-part grand finale will follow and will include 1,687 shells. City documentation shows that Gulfport’s event will contain more shells in size categories like three inch, four inch, five inch and six inch than what St. Petersburg will be offering. Smaller shells are from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half inches in size.
“In the past, we’ve never used more than 4,000 shells in a 20-minute show on the Fourth of July,” said Shea.
Citywide Plastic Straw Ban Moves Forward
Jennifer Winn, a Stetson University College of Law student, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and urged members of the city council to support a single-use plastic straw ban.
“There are 500 million single-use, non biodegradable plastic straws thrown away every day,” she said. That would “fill up about 46,000 big yellow school buses a year.”
The waste ends up in waterways and results in fish having straws stuck in their gills, manatee necropsies showing that they have straws in their colons and “there is a worldwide video of 10 centimeters worth of straw being lodged inside a turtle’s nose,” she said. “That video has helped to start the straw-free movement.”
Winn is a member of the Environmental Law Society and the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the college. Recently, she participated in a Keep Pinellas Beautiful cleanup at Gulfport’s Clam Bayou where she personally collected a number of discarded plastic straws and other waste within two hours.
“Gulfport can show that a small town like us can make a change,” said Winn.
Councilmember Michael Fridovich is working with Winn and provided other councilmembers with an April 28, 2017 online article entitled “Are Drinking Straws Dangerous?” written by Emily DiFrisco, of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Jackie Nunez, founder of The Last Plastic Straw. To view the narrative and the related turtle video cited by Winn, see plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2017/4/28/are-drinking-straws-dangerous.
“This is a great idea,” said Fridovich. “I’m bringing forth an ordinance to the next council meeting which, if passed after two readings, will take effect in six months. I would like all the restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations to voluntarily get rid of their plastic straws. If that doesn’t happen within six months, we’ll have an ordinance in place. I want a six-month window because all restaurants and people keep a six-month supply. I’m not asking them to throw out what they’ve got.”
Alternatives include paper and metal straws along with reusable plastic straws, he said.
City staff will present an ordinance that bans single-use plastic straws for council members to discuss during their next regular meeting on Tuesday, April 17, said O’Reilly.