GULFPORT, Fla. (WFLA) – Could heavy rains from Hurricane Dorian cause an environmental disaster in Gulfport? Some residents are concerned that if the storm takes aim on them, they could see a repeat of what they witnessed four years ago.
In August of 2015, St. Petersburg City leaders blamed heavy summer rains for a sewage spill at their water treatment plant nearby. Millions of gallons of untreated wastewater made its way into the bay and eventually into Clam Bayou’s fragile ecosystem. Area waterways and beaches were closed for months.
Kurt Zuelsdorf owns Kayak Nature Adventures and believes the issues have not been resolved.
“This problem that we’re having of ongoing sewage spills is only going to get worse. So that’s my concern here,” said Zuelsdorf. “Obviously, as a business owner that works in on and around the water all the time.”
Benjamin Kirby is with the city of St. Petersburg and says workers have made numerous improvements to the city’s wastewater and sewage treatment systems.
“We have invested about $215 million of more than $300 million committed to our infrastructure, repairing about 121 miles of leaky pipes and securing about 7,700 manholes to prevent infiltration and intrusion of stormwater into the sewer system,” Kirby wrote in a statement.
That being said, Kirby says improvements cannot prevent a spill if a hurricane takes aim for this area.
“(We) can’t predict how much rain we will get, so we won’t promise anything – it’s out of our control,” said Kirby. “But we continue to monitor the situation closely and prepare.”
Zuelsdorf says when there is a spill, he doesn’t need to get notification from the city.
“When we do have a spill, I generally don’t even have to check the water quality test,” said Zuelsdorf. “I just have to come out here and it’s dead quiet. The birds leave, the fish leave, everything goes away and it just becomes like a quiet dead zone.”
Zuelsdorf believes residents should also do their part if the storm heads this way. He hopes people will limit their water use by not doing as much laundry and limiting showers and baths. Those two activities tend to stress the systems.
Debbie Redynsky has lived in Gulfport for more than a decade and believes if Dorian heads this way it’s going to be bad. She points out the ground is already saturated and there is water already standing on a number of roads.
“The level right now down at the marina in the sewers are level with the ground as we speak so …. they’re full. And you get any more? And we’re flooded,” Redynsky said.