By Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson
Someday soon I hope to be writing about an issue other than the August sewage discharge from St. Petersburg into Clam Bayou, but today is not that day. Based on comments made by St. Pete Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt at the September 17 St. Petersburg Council meeting, and recent developments since the discharge, I have lost confidence in his willingness and ability to help resolve our sanitary sewer issues. I have shared this with Mayor Kriseman, who has remained in contact with me since the crisis began. I am meeting with him again this week to discuss our current unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Why am I, like many of you, unhappy? Let me tell you where we stand today.
First off, there has been much ongoing confusion regarding the differentiation between an overflow and an intentional discharge. An overflow occurs when system capacity is reached and the system can’t contain it. What took place in Clam Bayou was the intentional pumping / re-routing of sewage from the system into a public body of water. This is what has been so hard for many of us to accept.
In this case, a St. Petersburg employee made the conscious choice to take this action and we’ve been living with that ever since.
There also appear to have been discrepancies between the discharge volumes reported by St. Pete staff to the Department of Environmental Protection and those reported to other agencies and the public. After seven weeks, there should be no doubt about these volumes, and this should have been reported uniformly and transparently throughout the process. Gulfport has been transparent about our overflow (not intentional discharge) of 186,000 gallons during the same time period. This transparency should be standard.
Gulfport is also awaiting analytical results for water samples collected from Clam Bayou. We were initially promised by Leavitt’s office ongoing 24-hr turnaround on samples from the bayou, marina and beach, yet we have not received any data beyond Sep 16 for bayou samples. We rely on this data to make determinations about what waterways are reasonably safe for human contact. So, the bayou remains closed on the Gulfport side.
Further, Mr. Leavitt still seems unsure of how to account for the discharges, or whose discharges are included in his numbers, and according to a Tampa Bay Times article this weekend, he is now passing blame back to other communities including Gulfport.
I reviewed Leavitt’s statements during the September 17 meeting, and what I saw and heard was not necessarily blame but rather uncertainty and a lack of accountability on his part. This is unacceptable, and it is hindering our healing process in both cities.
I am meeting with Mayor Kriseman again, and will continue to do so, because we are the ones who have inherited this problem, and indeed it is on our shoulders to solve it. I have asked the mayor for a draft agreement by the end of the month that will protect both our cities in perpetuity from intentional sewage discharges and prescribe strict notification protocols for sewer incidents. I maintain that we can accomplish this, but the ball is indeed in St. Petersburg’s court.
I have faith that Mayor Kriseman will exhibit the leadership necessary to resolve this problem on his end. I assure you that I will do the same with the help of my council and city staff. Thanks for your patience as we push through.