ST PETE BEACH, Fla. — St. Pete Beach is just launching an aggressive effort to persuade state legislators and county officials to help them pay for a new sewer system.
Right now, the beach community's sewer system is so outdated, they have a moratorium on new hotel construction. That means any new hotel or current hotel hoping to add capacity is unable to do so until the sewage system is fixed.
St. Pete Beach leaders say they've already spent millions of dollars on maintenance, but without fixes to add capacity, they worry about sewage running into streets, onto the beach, and into waterways in the wake of heavy storms.
Yet, fixing the issues won't be cheap. Improvements are expected to cost between $12 million to $14 million.
The city of St. Pete Beach just hired a lobbyist to allocate for money at the state level. Beach leaders are also looking at loans and getting funding from Pinellas County commissioners.
Beach leaders are also petitioning to be able to use tourist tax dollars to fund sewer capacity projects.
As of right now, Mayor Al Johnson says the city's sewer system has virtually zero capacity to handle any additional sewage along “hotel row” on Gulf Boulevard south of 64th Avenue.
"This is prohibiting us from being able to grow," Johnson explained.
Tony Satterfield, the general manager of The Alden Resort would love to see improvements to the sewer system. He'd like to add additional suites to his hotel but is at a stand still until the sewer capacity is improved.
“It has stopped the ability for the hotel district to increase in size or build new hotels. You look at Clearwater Beach and there are new hotels everywhere. It could happen here if we fix the issues at hand,” he explained.
Debbie Hawthorne also desperately wants to see the system improved. She vividly remembers when the city was forced to dump sewage into Boca Ciega Bay just feet from her home in 2016 following Tropical Storm Colin.
"Like anybody else we were like 'Uh, that’s wrong on so many levels.' If they don't get it fixed, the quality of life will go down, which will drive people away,” Hawthorne explained.