Documentary examines St. Pete's sewer issues

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It may be the smelliest documentary in Florida history: A group of USF students and their professor are taking on the city's sewage crisis of 2015 to 2016 in a 35-minute documentary, slated to play this weekend at the Gasparilla Film Festival in Ybor City.

"It came up during our environmental law class," said USF-St. Pete student and film executive producer Caroline Smith. "Almost nobody in the class had even heard about the issue." 

Work started on "St. Pete Unfiltered" as a hot mayoral election intersected with a damning report from FWC that said the city was criminally negligent in allowing hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage to spill into Tampa Bay.

Six months later, nine students and a professor have shot 30 hours of video and interviewed 14 people.

It looks at what caused the spills, like the closure of the Albert Whitted plant, and how the discharges impacted the environment.

"When they made a claim, I wanted at least three references that could support that claim," said professor and producer Brandon Shuler.

They say city workers misled the public about the size of the spills, are wasting money fighting a lawsuit, and should abandon hopes of flushing sewage underground in an emergency.

"They are throwing lots of resources at perpetuating a coverup instead of taking the issue head on," said Smith.

For months, the administration has argued out that several were fired, and that problems built over decades of mismanagement. It also promises to pay $300 million to revamp the sewers. 

The mayor's office says Rick Kriseman had originally intended to appear on camera, but "it became apparent they were not making a honest attempt to tell the story." 

One councilor who was interviewed, Darden Rice, told us they apparently used footage of her in a different way than they had implied. 

The other councilor interviewed, Steve Kornell, still hasn't seen the film, but has this takeaway:

"The public needs to stay on it, because we need to make sure that we, meaning the entire citizens of St. Petersburg, need to make sure this never happens again. The documentary will be important in keeping this in the public eye."

When told of the city's claims about the film, the producers said they stood by the film.