Baker: Kriseman’s ‘Mismanagement’ Caused Sewage Spill
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
Former Mayor Rick Baker fired back at Mayor Rick Kriseman over statements that Baker had failed to adequately maintain St. Petersburg’s sewers during his term.
ST. PETERSBURG – The war over the city’s sewer system continues to consume the mayor’s race as former Mayor Rick Baker fired back over allegations that he failed to adequately maintain the sewers.
Mayor Rick Kriseman made the allegations during a Thursday (July 6) press conference in which he charged that Baker was being “hypocritical” and “inaccurate” when he condemned Kriseman for dumping almost 200 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay when the system was overwhelmed during last summer’s heavy tropical storms.
Among Kriseman’s allegations: Baker wrote in his book, Seamless City, that, given the choice, it would be better to dump sewage into the bay rather than let it flow in the streets and back up in residents’ homes. Baker was the first to consider closing the Albert Whitted sewage plant (The St. Pete council voted to close it in 2011 after Baker left office. It was not closed until 2015 when Kriseman made the decision.)
“With this press conference the Kriseman campaign has crossed the line from desperate to pathetic,” Baker’s campaign director Nick Hansen said. “They have taken an unsigned map that was created before Mayor Baker considered and rejected closing Albert Whitted because studies proved it was a bad idea.”
Tampa Bay Reporter was unable to reach Baker’s campaign for a comment Thursday. But today (July 7), the campaign sent this statement:
“I researched and rejected an idea to close the Albert Whitted plant early in my first term. I invested over $160 million in overall water and sewer capital investments, including millions to specifically upgrade Albert Whitted from 2001 – 2010.
“Bottom line, this spill was the result of Rick Kriseman’s mismanagement. After blaming the spill on global warming, past administrations and city staff, he once again tries to deflect responsibility from his decision that has caused such damage. When you are a strong mayor, you take responsibility for your actions and fix problems. Rick Kriseman refuses to do either.”
Baker also offered this excerpt from Seamless City:
“By the mid 1990s our city’s sanitary sewer pipes had deteriorated to the point that in the rainy seasons the rise in the water table would result in storm water filling up the sanitary sewer pipes through the leaky structures, and placing an increased demand on the treatment plants. Finally, one day heavy rains overloaded the system, and large quantities of untreated sewage were discharged into bay waters, a result known as a ‘sanitary sewer overflow.’ The city’s alternative to discharging into the bay would have been to allow the untreated sewage to back up in the homes and businesses of the city – not a good option.
“After the bay discharge, the city spent over 10 years replacing pipe and upgrading treatment plants, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in order to bring our treatment infrastructure to an appropriate level and reduce the number of sanitary sewer overflows. It was a responsible approach, and one that was necessary from a regulatory perspective, but it did not garner positive headlines. The media discussion was reserved for the water rate increases needed to fund the improvements.”
Seven people are running for St. Petersburg mayor: Baker, Kriseman, Paul Congemi, Jesse Nevel, Anthony Cates, Theresa Lassiter and Ernisa Barnwell. The mayor serves a four-year term and earns $180,895 a year. The primary is Aug. 29. The two top votegetters will move on to the Nov. 7 general election. The race is non-partisan.
For information about Rick Baker, go to bakerstpete.com.
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