Nearly every time a major storm hits St. Petersburg, flooding ensues, submerging streets and creating safety hazards, but new funding will help city officials to better manage the strained stormwater systems.
The city was recently notified that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection intends to provide the significant funds, according to an announcement this week.
The majority of the funds, which the city expects to receive by next year, will be used to mitigate stormwater flooding at Lake Maggiore in the Salt Creek Basin.
“Lake Maggiore has one of the areas in St. Pete with the lowest elevation, which makes it susceptible to flooding, storm surge and a high possibility of property damage,” Claude Tankersley, public works administrator, told the St. Pete Catalyst. “In that area, we also have MLK (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street), a main critical access route for South St. Pete. There’s a significant number of hospitals and a fire department on MLK – we have a lot of critical infrastructure we need to keep safe.”
Tankersley explained that it takes years to conceptualize a project, request funding and go through an approval and review process before work can commence. This is the first major project identified as part of the city’s 20-year stormwater master plan.
The team requested the $20 million-plus funds a year ago for the projects. When pursuing grants, the submitted documentation includes St. Pete’s success in winning and utilizing public funding to back its projects, highlighting a positive track record.
“We have an intentional focus on partnerships and seeking grant opportunities. These Resilient Florida Program funds will enable the city to make necessary infrastructure improvements that will mitigate flooding and increase utility service reliability,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said in a prepared statement. “Investing in improvements that upgrade aging infrastructure is a top priority for my administration. These types of opportunities help to strengthen St. Pete’s framework and systems.”
Tankersley said the public works team meets weekly with internal staff and outside consultants to seek out available competitive grant funding from the state, federal and non-profit agencies.
The Lake Maggiore stormwater mitigation effort would require the largest chunk of the funding – $11.575 million. The remainder of the funding will go towards improving the Salt Creek Outfall Pump Station and replacing the maintenance buildings at the Southwest and Northeast water reclamation facilities. The needed upgrades will increase service reliability and safety during hurricanes and other major weather events.
“With rainfall patterns and climate change, we anticipate the need to make the buildings more resilient to stormwater flooding and higher winds, reducing the possibility of our wastewater plants failing during storms,” Tankersley said.
The public works department has an annual budget of $16 million designated for localized stormwater management projects. Since 2015, the city has invested more than $280 million to repair aging infrastructure and increase resiliency for the future.
“We are increasing the budget to $30 to $35 million. It can take five to 10 years to do a project, so we need to identify the needed funding and permitting – that’s why we have a 20-year plan,” Tankersley said.
The department receives funding through utility rates. St. Petersburg’s recommended fiscal year 2024 budget includes several proposed rate increases, most notably, a 15% stormwater fee hike.
“We adjust the stormwater and utility rates annually and know this is challenging for residents. We started to focus on increasing the rates in 2016, anticipating we would have this master stormwater plan and slowly raise the rates to move forward on projects,” Tankersley said. “With this large grant, it will help us become less aggressive on raising the rates [slowing the rate increases].”
Earlier this year, the city received over $3.5 million in state and federal funding to dredge Bartlett Lake, which will mitigate flooding risks to surrounding neighborhoods. The project, which hasn’t started yet, promises to bolster resiliency to sea level rise and climate change for Bartlett Park residents.