Friday, November 17, 2017

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


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.


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. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s 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: 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...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17