10Investigates allegations: St. Pete sewage result of ignoring consultant

A whistleblower claims the city was negligent in ignoring flood warnings.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Letter arrived at St Petersburg City Hall at 6:07 Friday morning. The letter is from a Whistle Blower who says there were warnings about flooding and sewage spills.

This 11-page letter and copies of emails and other documents say the city was warned that sewage overflows  would happen if it didn't follow the recommendations of a consultant before shutting down the Albert Whitted Treatment Plant. However, the city ignored the recommendations.

The Consultant, Brown and Caldwell said to avoid overflows it was mandatory that thee capacity at the Southwest treatment be expanded by almost one third before the city closed Albert Whitted. But, that expansion never happened.

“The evidence indicates they knew," Former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster told us.

He points to the Brown and Caldwell 2014 study that warned the city the Whitted plant should not be closed until there was a massive expansion of the Southwest treatment Plant. However, the letter points out the city shut down Albert Whitted without making recommended upgrades.

According to Foster, “They knew if we had a high storm event that we were going to have these discharges and they elected to decommission it anyway.”

The Whistle Blow letter is from the Chief Plant operator at the Northwest treatment plant, Craven Askew. He was on the job all day and we could not reach him for comment. But his letter states public safety and the environment could possibly be in danger due to the sewage spills.

Letter from whistleblower Craven Askew 

“I think people were so excited about having waterfront acreage downtown it lead into this sewage crisis,” says Council Member Steve Kornell. Kornell opposed closing the plant. He says the city blew it and adds the Mayor is not being candid by saying the sewage dumped into the bay is clean.

“They are using some terms and saying it is almost reclaimed, it is reclaimed and when you look at the DEP standards , they don’t match.” Kornell told us. He also  says, ”The city should not be in the business of misleading people."

In the meantime, Foster rejects the administrations argument that the rains this summer were the perfect storm for a disaster.

“They haven't had a perfect storm yet. Baker (former Mayor Rick Baker) had three hurricanes in 2004. I had high water events in 2012 and 2013 which lead us to know you can't decommission Whitted until you expand and complete southwest. They did it anyway.”

A city spokesman says because this is a whistle blower suit, it can't comment. In the meantime, the Florida Department of Regulations is preparing a consent order to try to force the city to correct the problem. That should be done by early next week. 


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