St. Pete has a sewage problem, and one city council member thinks he has a solution.
Consultants who have studied aging sewer systems in other similar cities tell city leaders that anywhere from 30% to possibly even 70% of the "infiltration" into St. Pete's sewer system is caused by aging pipes between homes/businesses and the city's main lines.
"Infiltration" in this case is when rainwater runs into the sewage system, which has forced the city to dump sewage into local waterways to prevent the system from becoming so overwhelmed that raw sewage becomes backed up into people's homes.
The city estimates that about 200 million gallons of wastewater was discharged over the past couple years.
Part of the problem, says St. Pete Council-member Karl Nurse to ABC Action News, is that the city has no system of identifying which homes and which neighborhoods are causing part of the problem.
Another problem, says Nurse, is that homeowners often don't know they are part of the problem, and don't have any motivation to find out if they are causing the problem.
Nurse is suggesting the following plan:
- Target the basins with the worst I&I.
- Target the worst basins that are served by the sewer plants most at risk.
- The City develop a program to inspect the laterals, public and private, in those basins.
- The City share the results with the property owners. Disclose at time of sale. Identify the problem laterals.
- The City do a bulk bid for lateral replacement - public and private. The City replace public laterals in targeted basins. The City offer customer the option of the City arranging for private lateral replacement by a City contractor or citizen may hire a private contractor.
- The City offer zero interest financing for up to ten years. The payment ideally is on tax bill as part of a special taxing district.
- The City enact an up-charge on the property tax bill after one year to property owners with identified bad laterals who choose to not repair the laterals. Funds would go toward the sewer system repairs. By putting it on the tax bill, the property owner rather than the tenant is responsible for the cost.
Nurse believes his plan reduces costs to taxpayers as best as possible, and saves taxpayers money in the long-run by reducing the the amount of wastewater processed by the city and it drastically reduces the city's negative environmental impacts.
Neighborhoods at or below sea level, and homes in old St. Pete neighborhoods like in Old Southeast and Historic Kenwood, would likely be some of the neighborhoods that could use the most repairs, and would be the most-directly impacted by improvements.
The city is already spending millions of dollars on sewer line improvements, including using some money from the BP settlement of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The city council is set to review the plan after the Thanksgiving holiday and Nurse hopes the plan will be set in motion in early 2017.