Kriseman stands by administration on sewage problems

Aaron Mesmer reports

- A day after taking a lot of heat from the St. Petersburg City Council over how the sewage crisis has been handled, Mayor Rick Kriseman said Friday he's standing by his administration and is focused on finding solutions.

The mayor sat down with FOX 13 and discussed what has happened since Hurricane Hermine, when more than 150 million gallons of wastewater poured into Tampa Bay and the surrounding neighborhoods.

"Since all of this has happened we have really tried to be introspective, really tried to look at how we've done things; what we've done right, what we've done wrong, what we can do better," Krisereman said.

The blow-back from the sewage spill brought the mayor in front of City Council, where he admitted communication within the Public Works Department and to the public hasn't been sufficient as the sewage spill got worse.

One council members threatened to call a special attorney to investigate what happened if the mayor's office didn't improve transparency.

"I think they were angry. I think they were frustrated. I think they had a right to be," Kriseman said. "The bottom line is, we've got to fix this. That's just the bottom line of all of it."

Kriseman also said he didn't realize things were as bad as they in the Water Resources Department.

The problems were capped off by the revelation that a 2014 study warning about potential problems if the Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Facility was closed went largely unnoticed until an employee-turned-whistleblower revealed it this week.

The plant was shuttered in 2015. Shortly after, many of the sewage problems began.

"I think what that report did is it clearly called to light problems that were in the department," the mayor told FOX 13. "The water resources department, I knew we had issues there. I had no idea the extent of the issues."

The mayor said fixing the issues will be costly and will take years.

"It's going to take a lot of money. It's going to take some time. We're going to expedite it as much as we humanly can," Kriseman said. "We're going to do seven days a week, when we can do it, as opposed to five. We have to increase capacity."

Neighbors in the Azalea community remain frustrated; they were among the hardest hit by the sewage spill.

Mark Pohlod, who had wastewater flooding part of his yard for three days, said it's hard to trust the city to fix the problems when the issues were caused, in part, by the decisions made by city leaders and Public Works managers.

"I think we're let down by the city. They're letting us down," Pohlod said. "We're going to be victims of a flood here and they know about it and we just don't feel like they're doing anything."

While the mayor maintains the water that seeped into yards was safe, although not 100 percent clean, Pohlod isn't entirely comforted.

"How would the mayor like it if it was up on his yard and coming into his house?" he asked, adding he's also realistic about how long it'll take for a fix. "I would like to see a resolution soon, but I know this is a long term thing, a lot of work that has to go into this."

Meantime, Congressman David Jolly has called for a state law enforcement agency to open a criminal investigation into what happened. Kriseman's administration has dismissed that as a political ploy.

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