Scientist featured in Baker ad attacking Kriseman calls ad "deceptive"

The Eckerd professor says the blame for the city's sewage problems doesn't lay squarely with one administration.

Believe it or not, a recent political attack ad may have been packed with misleading assertions that cast the opposing candidate in an unflattering light.

Shocking, right?

Former mayor and current mayoral candidate Rick Baker's ad attacking Mayor Rick Kriseman over the city's ongoing sewage crisis is catching the eyes of fact-checkers and Kriseman supporters alike — not to mention David Hastings, the marine scientist who was quoted in the ad.

The Baker campaign has been hanging the city's wastewater problems solely on Kriseman (they say it's the "but her emails" of this election), who happened to be in office during the dramatic sewage releases of 2016 and 2017, and this ad is something of an opus in that regard. It's got all the hits: closure of the Albert Whitted treatment plant, "lying" about the quality of the water that was sent into the bay, etc.

Hastings, who teaches at Eckerd College, is quoted expressing concern over "bacteria that are going to make us sick."

Fox 13's Craig Patrick followed up with Hastings.

In a segment that ran on the channel that Kriseman supporters are like County Commissioner Ken Welch are sharing on social media, Hastings said his comments were taken out of context.

"I'm concerned about the ad in large part because I believe it's misleading and perhaps deceptive. In fact, the releases are not associated with one particular mayor or administration. They're a 10 and 20-year problem associated with the long-term degradation of our wastewater treatment systems," he said in what appears to be a FaceTime interview that was part of Patrick's report.

Indeed, city records show that there have been many, many sewage spills and releases over the past two decades, though those that occurred in 2015 and 2016 were the largest.

As for the Whitted plant — and it's admittedly difficult to not correlate the sewage spills with its closure in the Spring of 2015, as the state does in a report that also spreads the blame across multiple administrations despite what this headline says — City Council voted to close it in 2011, more than two years before Kriseman took office. Sure, Kriseman didn't take any action to stop it from closing. And for several years — some of them were, again, before Kriseman took office — the city had drastically reduced its funding for the plant, basically paying to keep the lights on at the 90-plus-year-old facility.

So, it's not like it was running on all cylinders to begin with, and it's unclear whether Kriseman would have done anything differently had a report advising against the closure not gone unseen or a plant supervisor's email expressing concern over increased flows to the Southwest plant made it up the chain of command.