Thursday, November 23, 2017
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Drip, drip, drip goes St. Petersburg's sewer mess

RECOMMENDED READING


When you get right down to it, the job description for the mayor of any city is pretty easily defined.

There are three basic things the mayor has to do: A) maintain the roads and street lights, B) keep criminal mayhem to a minimum and C) when it rains make sure icky poo-poo water doesn't flood the city.

Everything else — fancy museums, iconic piers, parades, ribbon cuttings, inspiring speeches and stadiums — are all very nice. But they begin to take on less importance if the citizenry finds itself scraping off …, well you know, from their shoes whenever it rains and the byways turn into the Ganges River. Too nuanced?

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has found himself in a pollution pickle after an estimated 200 million gallons of partially treated and untreated sewage water poured into Tampa Bay and other waters during a spate of heavy storms in recent months. Think of this as a Whitman's Sampler of sewage.

Caught in a swirl of accusations he mishandled the situation, Kriseman started a purge of the city's wastewater treatment operation, including department officials Steve Leavitt and Tom Gibson, who have been put on unpaid leave while hizzoner attempts to squeegee his way out of the problem.

Another wastewater employee, Craven Askew, has filed for whistleblower protection. Former Public Works administrator Mike Connors has come to the defense of the disciplined workers. It's a mess of a mess.

At issue is what did Kriseman know and when did he know it? And it also depends on whom you want to believe.

The debate seems to turn on a rather prescient 2014 consultants report that raised serious concerns over the wisdom of shutting down the Albert Whitted treatment plant, which reduced the city's capability to handle massive overflows in the wake of intense storms. Kriseman and the City Council insist they never saw the 2014 report. The mayor has defended showing Leavitt and Gibson the door because he was unsatisfied with how the information was shared with him.

In any event, the buck and the muck eventually does stop at the mayor's desk.

You don't need to be legendary urban planner Robert Moses to grasp the obvious that by shutting down the Albert Whitted facility, regardless of its shortcomings, you would be increasing the risks to the city's capability to handle sewage overflows during major storm events.

The massive sewage dumps have underscored systemic problems throughout the city's roughly 900 miles of sewer pipes, some of them almost as old as St. Petersburg itself, even on days when there is no significant rainfall. That reality is based on another consultant's report detailing overflow vulnerabilities across St. Petersburg.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that finally the mayor and City Council have taken note of a consultant's study, suggesting perhaps the nearly thousand mile journey to at last addressing lingering infrastructure problems in St. Petersburg begins with a drip, drip, drip.

Comments

Another voice: Wall isnít a lifesaver, itís a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trumpís controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction ó and even what type of wall ó remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nationís budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more ó s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nationís highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldnít back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

From birth to death, opioid addiction is ravaging the lives of thousands of Floridians. Drugmakers, doctors, state lawmakers and insurance companies all have a role to play in slowing the epidemic. Lately some more responsible answers, including mill...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/21/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "Iím pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

By now the guest list if not the table is all set, and the house will be warmed with the noise of loved ones and the smell of that dish with cream of mushroom soup. Tucked between the sugar rush of Halloween and the sparkle of Christmas, Thanksgiving...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17