Karl Nurse: sewage dump is a symptom of profound, decades-old infrastructure needs

St. Pete has caught a lot of grief for what appears to be a careless, disgusting and perilously ill-advised decision.

When August's heavy rains inundated the city's sewer system, the city began pumping the excess into nearby Clam Bayou and Tampa Bay — we're talking of millions of gallons of raw sewage — and was then less-than-upfront about it.

The city has since parted ways with Mike Connors, the public works director who oversaw the dump (the mayor was apparently not made aware), and a state investigation more or less cleared the city of wrongdoing with the dump per se, but did find inconsistencies in the way it was reported, writes the Tampa Bay Times' Charlie Frago.

The city is also catching grief from Eckerd College, which criticized the way St. Pete is investigating a sewage dump at a treatment plant adjacent the campus.

But an action many are calling corrupt, malicious and virtually any other negative adjective may be rooted, at least somewhat, in an issue that's been plaguing St. Pete — and many other cities — for generations.

“You've got water pipes underneath where you're standing that are 75 to 100 years old," said City Councilman Karl Nurse Thursday at a press conference at Vinoy Park that highlighted Florida's waterways. "At the rate we're currently doing repairs, they need to last another 75 years, and that won't happen. And that won't happen. And that's why we're trying to have that broader conversation.”

He said the city will likely study the extent of its infrastructure needs, which could end up topping half a billion dollars over the next 20 years.

“The sewage that [was] dumped, that's a graphic illustration that this is what happens when you have hundreds of miles of sewer pipes that have breaks in them," Nurse said. "The solution — sort of like in your own house — fix the breaks. If we had not had hundreds of miles of sewer lines with breaks in them, there would have been no dump.”

Tampa has its own issues with infrastructure as it relates to stormwater, and Tampa City Council is weighing a proposal to raise the stormwater fee to help address its outdated system.

“All across the country, cities are trying to step up our infrastructure investment, and it would be helpful if Washington would once again get to work," Nurse said. "Because infrastructure is a basic job of government. We can't have clean water if we don't take care of this.”

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