Top St. Pete water officials suspended over sewage crisis

St. Pete's overflow after Tropical Storm Hermine has had an impact on government employees.

St. Petersburg, Florida -- Two top water officials are suspended, the governor has ordered a DEP investigation.. and sources are telling 10Investigates there could be a criminal investigation into the sewage overflow.

10Investigates first reported about a consultant report last Friday.  It holds a major key to the sewage crisis and is the reason St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman suspended the two top officials Wednesday.

The two were apparently aware the consultant report said don't close the Albert Whitted treatment plant until treatment capacity was expanded elsewhere -- and Kriseman maintains he never was informed.

The consultant says the sewage dumps and spills likely never would have happened if the Whitted plant closure had been delayed.

10Investigates has obtained paperwork showing Engineering and Capital Improvements Director Thomas Gibson and Water Resources director Steve Leavitt were aware of the report. That's why the mayor suspended them today.
  
However, state Rep Kathleen Peters, R-Pinellas County, says that does not absolve the mayor.

Peters says, “And the bottom line is the buck stops at the leadership. You can blame all kinds of things, but you've got to take ownership. He needs to apologize to the citizens and he need take ownership. He is the administrator of that city and he needs to know what is going on.”

10Investigates tried contacting the two water officials. Gibson wasn't home and his wife angrily said not to come back. Leavitt didn't answer the several calls we made to his office and home.

Meantime, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Rocks, is offering protection for any more water department whistle-blowers like Craven Askew. He says the feds should step in.

“This certainly rises to the an EPA investigation in terms of the environmental impact,” Jolly says, “but an investigation that likely goes well beyond that as well.”

And while Jolly hints at a criminal investigation, sources say Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is taking a hard look at the sewage dumping and spills to see if laws were broken.

Meantime, Peters says she expects the investigation ordered by Gov. Rick Scott could dig up more answers.
“They are going to dig deeper into this  and I think they are prepared to dig as far as they can.

10Investigates tried to talk with Kriseman. His office says he was unavailable for comment, but he is planning to address the issue Thursday afternoon at the city council meeting.

The mayor's spokesman Ben Kirby issued a statement saying the DEP investigation is politically motivated.
 

10Investigates has been on top of the sewage issue:

248M gallons of sewage discharged in storm

DEP fines St. Pete, orders more capacity

Sewage dump sinks fishing business

Pinellas officials address sewage issue


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