Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Tuesday’s council meeting with the response from St. Petersburg’s mayor, Rick Kriseman regarding the dumping of raw sewage into Clam Bayou several weeks ago.
Krisman’s response came in the form of a letter (click link and scroll down to read) and stated that in no situation will St. Petersburg again pump sewage into waterways in or near St. Petersburg.
Mayor Henderson seemed satisfied with the letter from Krisman.
“I’m sure there are people who are not satisfied with the letter, but it’s a pretty concrete place to start,” Henderson said. “I would love to have the luxury to just throw my hands up in the air and be mad, but we have to work through the problem in such a way to get results.”
The letter is hardly a legally binding contract, but it is an important tool in making sure this does not happen again, according to Gulfport’s City Attorney Andrew Salzman.
“It’s useful for an argument as an estoppel that they couldn’t claim that
they didn’t know about this based on this letter in the future,” Salzman said. The letter continued with several potential solutions to the problem of overflowing sewage treatment plants, including partially bringing the Albert Whitted plant back on line. This would provide the ability to help manage
capacity and overflow potentials. According to the letter, St. Petersburg is also working on three projects that will help resolve the overflow issues.
A 15 million gallon reject water storage tank is being constructed at the southwest reclamation plant that will further add capacity to the city’s sewage treatment plants. Two 450 horse power reclaimed water pumps are also being added to the southwest plant and will assist in increasing the volume of water that can be pumped down into the rejection wells or into the reclaim water redistribution system. The two pumps were previously located at the Albert Whitted plant.
St. Petersburg estimates the project should be completed sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2016 and cost $5.2 million.
The city is also planning a sewer collection system in the Maximo Moorings neighborhood.
Public comment immediately followed the reading of the letter, and citizen’s concerns were not quelled by Kriseman’s promises, but Henderson asked for strict decorum, including no applause.
“There are bacteria, parasites, viruses, synthetic hormones, personal care products, and hospital and funeral home waste risks,” Cindy Davis, who has filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Petersburg over the issue, said to the council. “Gulfport business owners have said they’ve experienced dramatic downturns in revenue. Property values are also effected.”
Davis also cited a 1995 editorial published by the then St. Petersburg Times that reported 10 prior years of sewage discharge into Clam Bayou.
“You do the math,” Davis said. “For 30 years St. Petersburg has dumped sewage into Clam Bayou, expressed remorse, and promised to never do it again.”
While Davis is leading a lawsuit to make sure no will pollute Gulfport waters again, Henderson said he does not believe litigation is a course that the city will take.
“I don’t think that’s a suit we can win,” Henderson said.
Henderson also maintained his stance that the best solution is to work with St. Petersburg and not ruin the relationship between the two cities.
“I appreciate the people are outraged, but outrage alone is not activism and outrage without making a plan is not going to fix it,” Henderson said in a previous interview after the pumping. “I get the people are mad. I understand. I don’t like it either.”
Henderson says he intends to move forward with the plans stated in Kriseman’s letter.
“I’m not throwing up the white flag, saying they can do whatever they want to the city of Gulfport. But we have to be realistic moving forward. We have to work with this city. If we’re going to do something that works for us, we have to be collaborative,” said Henderson.
Councilman Dan Liedke suggested forming a crisis management communication strategy to include protocol and establish spokespersons to further communicate accurate information to citizens whether it be riots, spills or hurricanes. Council agreed with the idea and intends to discuss it after the budget is in place in October.