YOU PAID FOR IT: Lawsuit adds to mounting taxpayer cost of fixing St. Pete’s sewage ills

File photo
File photo

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The taxpayer cost of dealing with St. Petersburg’s sewage problems just keeps piling up.

On Friday Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation made good with a threat and filed a federal lawsuit calling for compliance with the Clean Water Act — something that could cost a fortune.

A federal judge in Tampa tossed the lawsuit Monday on a technicality because it was drafted as a “shotgun pleading,” but the environmental groups can refile within 14 days after making wording changes.

Whatever it costs, that lawsuit — and the potential cost of fighting it — comes on top of an $820,000 fine called for in a Department of Environmental Protection draft consent order. The consent order is related to the recent spillage of millions of gallons of sewage into St. Petersburg streets, parks, roadways, waterways and Tampa Bay. The city can work off most of that fine by investing in sewage infrastructure but will also be liable for fines of up to $10,000 a day during future spills.

The city has already proposed a $45 million fix, with both shor-term and long-term projects, totaling $259 million in a five-year plan to solve the problem. “It’s going to come from rates — water and sewer rates,” Public Works Director Clade Tankersley said. “It’s a burden that was postponed.”

“That’s a good start,” said Justin Bloom, an attorney who filed the lawsuit against St. Petersburg on behalf of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “But I think more needs to be done. It wouldn’t be so bad if over the last decades the city had kept up with the needs of the sewage system, but now that it’s in such disrepair its gonna need some significant investment.”

Bloom wants a federal judge to assume jurisdiction over forcing St. Petersburg to comply with the Clean Water Act. Right now DEP is pursuing action through the consent order that still isn’t signed or finalized.

The DEP insists it  will make sure there is not a reoccurrence of the massive sewage dumping that marked the hurricane deluges in August and September by forcing St. Petersburg to invest a fortune in its sewage system.

“We’re going to make sure they do it in a timely manner,” DEP Secretary Jonathan Steverson said. Whenever that happens — You’ll Pay For It.

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