Lawsuit Filed Against Gulfport Over Sewage Spills

One month after filing a similar lawsuit against the city of St. Petersburg, three non-profit environmental groups filed a complaint against the city of Gulfport for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act related to sewage spills. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, January 4, 2017, in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida Tampa Division after a 60-day notice of intent filed on October 28, 2016 expired in December.

A courtesy letter and an unofficial copy of the complaint, case number 8:17-CV-35-T-24MAP, was sent to the city of Gulfport by Justin Bloom, attorney for the lawsuit and executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc. on January 5, although the city of Gulfport has yet to be formally served.

“The courtesy letter/copy of the lawsuit is all we have at this time,” said James O’Reilly, Gulfport city manager, on Wednesday. “It is my policy not to comment on litigation until the city has been formally served with the official document that has been filed with the court and I have had an opportunity to review same with the city attorney.”

According to the lawsuit document, plaintiffs Suncoast Waterkeeper (SCWK), Our Children’s Earth Foundation (OCE) and Ecological Rights Foundation (EcoRights or ERF), allege that “Gulfport’s illegal discharges of raw and/or partially treated sewage to ocean and bay waters and other waters adjoining and in Gulfport degrade water quality and harm aquatic life in these waters, and thus impairs Plaintiffs’ members’ use and enjoyment of the ocean and bay waters and other waters adjoining and in Gulfport.”

The suit also states that the three organizations “bring this action on behalf of their members to address and remedy the injuries in fact suffered by these members as a result of Gulfport’s SSOs [sanitary sewer overflows]. The interests of Plaintiffs’ members at stake are germane to the purposes for which SCWK, OCE and ERF have been created.” The lawsuit names eight members of SCWK who live in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Temple Terrace, Sarasota and Manatee County, and one EcoRights member who lives in Sarasota, and how they have been adversely affected by “SSOs caused or contributed by Gulfport.”

The plaintiffs seek “civil penalties against Gulfport of up to $37,500 per day per violation for violations occurring from January 12, 2009 to November 2, 2015 and $51,570 per day per violations occurring after November 2, 2015 and assessed on or after August 1, 2016.”

“This case is related to our ongoing case against the city of St. Petersburg, addressing wet-weather overflows and the need to do significant upgrades to the sewage system, beyond what Gulfport has already committed to,” said Bloom. “We encourage Gulfport to do the responsible thing and sit down with us to hear the concerns of the local environmental community about the sewage spill problem and trying to negotiate a binding agreement for a solution. We have offered to discuss settlement and encourage Gulfport to open the door to listen to our proposals.”

Suncoast Waterkeeper, based in Sarasota, is a non-profit environmental organization licensed in Florida. The organization’s mission statement says it seeks “to protect and restore Florida Suncoast’s waterways through enforcement, fieldwork, advocacy, and environmental education for the communities that rely on these precious coastal resources.”

Our Children’s Earth Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Napa, CA, with a satellite office in Palm Beach, FL. According to the organization’s website, it aims to “promote public awareness of domestic and international human rights issues and environmental impacts through information dissemination, artistic expression, education projects, and private enforcement of environmental protection statutes.”

Ecological Rights Foundation, a California non-profit that receives donations from members and corporate supporters in addition to foundation grants, is “devoted to furthering the rights to a clean, healthful, and biologically diverse environment,” according to a statement on the foundation’s website.

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