ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Three environmental groups announced Thursday their intent to sue St. Petersburg after the city dumped wastewater into Tampa Bay.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection previously revealed more than 148 million gallons of wastewater had been dumped into Tampa Bay from several cities after Hurricane Hermine. St. Petersburg officials have faced tough questions ever since, including from state Rep. Kathleen Peters.
On Thursday Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc., Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue for violating the federal Clean Water Act. The groups want the city to undergo sewage system upgrades and to fund “environmental mitigation projects.”
“St. Petersburg’s recent extraordinarily large sewage discharges to Tampa Bay have caused serious human health risks and environmental damage. The needed infrastructure improvements are urgent, the ecological impacts will take a long time to heal, as will the damage to the public’s confidence, shaken by the city’s failure to notify and warn the public of these spills. The systemic improvements required to address these shortcomings are significant and will benefit from citizen participation and oversight,” the groups said in a press release.
The groups acknowledged the city has admitted its failures and promised to improve sewage systems. While the groups called that, “a positive and welcome step,” they also said it’s not enough.
“St. Pete does not have a good record of addressing the root causes of the ongoing sewage system problems. Citizen suit enforcement is needed because the legal system functions differently, and in many cases more efficiently, than the political system,” the press release reads.
Read the full release here.
Suncoast Waterkeeper’s executive director, Justin Bloom, said sewage contamination is a problem throughout the area. But, he said, St. Petersburg’s pollution is “particularly acute.”
“Hence, we are focusing first on St. Pete, but hope to stimulate improvements throughout the region,” he said.
Annie Beaman is a member of each of the three environmental groups. “Spending the last few days watching dead fish wash up on local shores reminds me of the ocean’s fragility. The current red tide might have started as a natural phenomenon, but the spate of huge sewage spills has certainly worsened the risks of a prolonged fish-killing event. Massive sewage discharges fuel local waters with nutrients which can feed red tide algae,” she said.
On Sept. 22 the St. Petersburg City Council voted for an outside investigation into the sewage dump. A 2014 report showed the Albert Whitted treatment plant should not have been closed. The report stated the city needed to improve its capacity to store wastewater before shuttering that plant. That was never done.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kireseman maintains he was never shown the report. The city council didn’t see the report before deciding to close the plant, he said.
“What’s critical here is when the decision was made to close the plant and the plant was actually closed? Who knew about this report came out before this date?” Kriseman asked earlier this month.