Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Affluence of effluent: Sewage woes roil St. Petersburg politics

As Hurricane Hermine moved up Florida’s Gulf Coast last summer, it dropped 22 inches of rain on the Tampa Bay area. The heavy flooding produced by the storm overloaded St. Petersburg’s aging wastewater system, and over the course of 10 days, the city dumped a total of about 150 million gallons of excess sewage into the waters in and around Tampa Bay. Some sewage fouled streets.

It wasn’t the first time — twice before in the past 14 months, rainstorms so overwhelmed the sewer system that the city dumped large volumes of contaminated wastewater into the bay.

The problem was twofold: First, the treatment system didn’t have enough capacity to handle the surge in demand, and one reason there was so much water to deal with was because the city’s old, leaky Pipes allow rainwater to seep into the system and overload it.

Part of the problem goes back to 2011, when the city council voted to decommission a sewage plant next to Albert Whitted Airport downtown.

Built in 1925, the Whitted plant was the city’s oldest wastewater treatment facility.

Officials said state regulatory changes had made it obsolete, and studies showed closing it would save $32 million over 20 years.

In 2014, a consultant’s report warned about the possibility of sewage spills if the city closed the plant without adding capacity elsewhere, but that warning went largely unheeded. A year later, the plant wound down operations, reducing the city’s sewage capacity by nearly 20%.

Along with fouling streets, the overflow has spilled into City Hall politics. Critics question whether city leaders ignored the risks of closing the plant. Mayor Rick Kriseman, who took office in 2014, says he didn’t see the consultant’s warning — brought to light post-Hermine by a city whistleblower — and he suspended two top wastewater officials.

In November, Kriseman proposed a series of short- and long-term fixes. St. Petersburg already plans to spend $30 million over the next two years to add more capacity at two of the city’s three remaining sewage plants.

Under Kriseman’s proposal, the city would spend another $15 million, primarily to begin fixing sewer pipes.

Longer term, Kriseman wants to spend $259 million on a comprehensive upgrade of the city’s pipes and an expansion of all three sewage plants.

St. Petersburg’s Sewage Crisis

» July-August 2015: Rainstorms cause the city to dump about 32 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and on the shore of the Eckerd College campus.

» June 2016: Tropical Storm Colin results in 10 million gallons of sewage discharges into Tampa Bay.

» August-September 2016: Hurricane Hermine leads the city to dump 150 million gallons of sewage, fouling local waterways,


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» Brian Lamb, chairman of the University of South Florida board of trustees and a key player in regional economic development circles, left Tampa to take a job as chief corporate responsibility and reputation officer for Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati. Lamb previously was a regional president at the bank. David Call, who oversaw the bank’s south Florida operations, became regional president for Florida.

» Harry Sideris, previously senior vice president of environmental health and safety for Duke Energy, is now the utility’s state president in Florida. Alex Glenn moved to senior vice president of state and federal regulatory legal support in Charlotte, N.C.

» The new St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. hired J.P. DuBuque as president. DuBuque was vice president of finance and administration at the Tampa Hillsborough EDC.

» WellCare Health Plans promoted Elizabeth Miller to president of Florida operations. She had been the company’s COO for Florida.


Car Line Efficiency

Tampa parents Pat Bhava and Chitra Kanagaraj have developed an app that aims to make the school car line more efficient. PikMyKid uses geo-fencing around a school to inform teachers and staff when a parent has arrived to pick up a child; tracking technology then lets them see the parent’s position in the line, so kids get to the right cars quickly, says Bhava. The app also notifies parents of a child’s dismissal status, delays and emergencies. More than 60 schools in 16 states and three countries have signed up since the app was launched in 2015. The company, which charges schools an annual fee of $3,000 to $5,000, raised about $1 million from Florida angel investors last year.

Business Briefs

CLEARWATER — Home goods chain Cost Plus World Market is expanding to the Tampa Bay area with a store in Clearwater.

CAPE CORAL — Home builder D. R. Horton bought a fully permitted tract of land west of I-75 from CoCo of Cape Coral. The 317-acre Villages of Entrada is permitted for about 720 homes.

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Roper Technologies bought Cincinnati software firm Construct- Connect for $632 million.

PASCO COUNTY — Raymond James Financial bought 65 acres in the Wiregrass Ranch development, where it has long planned a satellite campus.

POLK COUNTY — Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet agreed to pay Lake Hatchineha Ranch $2.91 million for a 1,619-acre conservation easement. The state Department of Environmental Protection reached a consent order with Mosaic over a sinkhole that leaked more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water into the ground last summer. Mosaic must put up $40 million in financial assurances.

ST. PETERSBURG — IT services firm 360 Advanced moved out of its Tampa headquarters to larger space in downtown St. Petersburg.

TAMPA — Hillsborough River Realty submitted a proposal for a development that calls for more than 1 million square feet of residential, hotel, office and retail space near the Kennedy Boulevard bridge. The Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm moved to a larger location in Tampa. The University of South Florida College of Public Health earned accreditation for a new master’s degree program in genetic counseling. USF began construction on the first phase of a housing “village” as part of a $134-million public- private partnership with Capstone-Harrison Street.

WINTER HAVEN — Center- State Banks is buying Platinum Bank of Brandon for $83.9 million.