City officials continue formulating an updated Stormwater Master Plan incorporating new modeling technology, sea level rise and rainfall data, stakeholder feedback and policy recommendations to reduce developmental impacts.
Brajesh Prayman, engineering and capital improvements director, provided the latest update on the momentous undertaking to the full city council at the May 25 Committee of the Whole meeting. The overarching goal is to improve water quality and reduce – but not eliminate – flooding conditions throughout the peninsula by ascertaining implementable solutions.
Unlike the previous iteration, the new plan only highlights major projects with significant community benefits. While the proposed updated strategy will change according to new data and state regulations, it includes 76 projects totaling $760 million.
Several council members thanked Prayman and his team for disseminating the plan’s expansive scope and wealth of new information through individual discussions.
“It’s sweeping,” said Councilmember Lissett Hanewicz. “Not only did they spend time with us here, they spent time with us in our offices going over this in detail – because it is that complex.”
The 1994 plan originally featured 338 projects totaling $345.4 million. Prayman said those were typically smaller and provided localized improvements.
St. Petersburg’s stormwater team is now taking a more holistic approach and prioritizing projects with an expanded impact according to available grants and funding. Mitigating flooding along major thoroughfares residents will likely use to evacuate is a focal point.
“The other thing I felt great about was the fact that we have funding to complete 60% … of the $760 million,” Hanewicz added. “It’s not like we’re starting at zero.”
Highlighted projects include an outfall route overhaul that should significantly reduce flooding around 38th Avenue North and 4th Street. The estimated cost is nearly $31 million.
A $20 million endeavor to remove and replace a large swath of pipes, culverts and asphalt along 21st Street South is also in the works. Prayman stressed that roadways are an integral part of the stormwater system and many projects will increase outflows while accounting for increased rainfall and flooding forecasts.
Prayman explained that stormwater officials consider immediate community needs and future efforts when developing mitigation strategies. They then build adaptive capacity into the infrastructure systems as part of a “One Water” approach.
In addition to climate changes, he also noted that they must prepare for tidal fluctuations. “I can never pump the bay out faster than it is coming in,” Prayman said.
He noted that the $760 million funding estimate would increase alongside inflation. However, Prayman said city officials began to include anticipated projects in their residential rate analysis to secure funding before the Master Plan is complete.
He relayed that the total cost also accounts for enhanced system maintenance efforts. Prayman said that would help reduce rate increases moving forward and ensure residents “are not impacted twice – or unnecessarily.”
Administrators are currently soliciting bids for a full system cleaning and condition assessment. Prayman said some corrugated metal pipes date back to the 1920s and 1950s and are reaching the end of their service life.
Exponential growth is also impeding stormwater mitigation efforts. Prayman highlighted several pictures with mounds of dirt from residential and commercial developments spilling into roads.
He said the construction material, oil, grime and other pollutants eventually combine with runoff and reach the stormwater system and local waterways. That causes costly repairs and harms the environment.
“The engineering department is currently working on low-impact design criteria standards,” Prayman added. “We do have a draft, and … there’s a regulation process on it so that we can ensure compliance.”
He listed several code revisions under review that encompass all new developments, aviation operations, marine fuel regulations and seawall maintenance. Prayman said those would clarify “grey areas” that meet current standards but negatively affect the city’s extensive stormwater system.
Councilmember Copley Gerdes attended a recent St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership meeting that focused on construction challenges, and he relayed how contractors noted the need for more stringent penalties. He called that “eye-opening.”
“I want to give you guys the teeth you need in the codes to make sure we’re holding our developers, contractors, residents and business owners accountable,” Gerdes said. “They know that the only way it’s going to get changed is if somebody holds them accountable, and there’s a little bit of pain involved.”