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City officials assess raw sewage leak impacts

Mark Parker

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An aerial view of the Riviera Bay neighborhood. About 10,600 gallons of raw sewage spilled into area waterways earlier this week. Photo: Facebook.

While crews have stopped a leak that dumped about 10,600 gallons of untreated sewage into St. Petersburg’s Riviera Bay, city officials are still working to assess environmental impacts.

One thing is clear, however: The area needs new infrastructure. City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard told the Catalyst, “It has come to our attention that the pipe cannot be salvaged.”

Gabbard represents the eponymous neighborhood in the Gateway area of north St. Petersburg. The bay borders the environmentally sensitive Weedon Island Preserve.

“We are testing all around the area,” Gabbard said. “We are testing all of the lakes; we’re testing all of the canals. Our team is working overtime to do all of that testing.”

She said city crews are asking homeowners’ permission to access specific sites on private property. One resident reported seeing manatees swimming under something resembling green sludge.

Water resources officials will post testing data on the city’s website. Gabbard expects to have the first results in 24 to 48 hours.

Until then, she encouraged people to continue avoiding the water around Riviera Bay. “We have not lifted that order at this point or that request of residents,” Gabbard said.

“Because we are still doing testing, and we are still trying to look at impacts.”

The Weedon Island Preserve borders Riviera Bay to its west. Photo: Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

A homeowner began smelling sewage Thursday, Aug. 17, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection pollution report. He notified local officials Friday evening when he noticed water seeping from the ground and spilling into Riviera Bay.

City crews responded Friday night and vacuumed about 200 gallons of the raw sewage before it reached the water. Another 600 gallons spilled into the bay overnight.

The leak grew exponentially Saturday, Aug. 19, as workers attempted to repair the force main pipe. City Spokesperson Erica Riggins notified the media Sunday that approximately 10,000 additional gallons of untreated wastewater entered the bay between 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

While effects on marine wildlife remain unclear, Gabbard said, “One gallon is one gallon too many.”

“We have worked very, very hard over the last six, seven years to improve our aging infrastructure,” she added. “But this is continuing to be a challenge. Not only here in Pinellas County, but across the country.”

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection map highlighting the spill location. Screengrab.

Containment efforts and repairs on the broken 24-inch main caused intermittent road closures to the San Martin Boulevard NE Bridge. Crews dug a sandbag-lined pit to capture the sewage as it spilled from the pipe.

They used vacuum trucks, called vactors, to pull sewage from the pit and prevent additional leakage into the bay. Workers trucked waste sucked from the site to city wastewater facilities for treatment.

City officials initially expected to finish repairs today. According to the latest update, the replacement process will take about two years.

According to Gabbard, workers determined the entire one-mile sewage pipe, which carried two million gallons of wastewater daily during normal operations, “has exceeded its useful life” and is no longer viable.  

City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard.

Local leaders included a $3 million pipe replacement project in the 2025 budget. Gabbard said the plan was for that to coincide with the county’s scheduled San Martin Bridge replacement.

“Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to wait that long,” she said. “We will be going ahead and moving that project forward now.”

City crews stopped the leak with a clamp late Monday and will now install a bypass pipe. They will then replace the old sewer line.

Construction and intermittent closures along Patica Road NE, San Martin Boulevard NE and Tallahassee Drive N will persist throughout the process. Gabbard said city officials are working with the St. Petersburg Police Department to ensure resident and worker safety.

“The city is ready to get to work on making sure that we get this rectified for this very important community – a community that I’m proud to serve,” Gabbard added. “The city is still very much committed to making sure that we have safe and working infrastructure for all of our city for generations to come.”

 

 

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