Protesters of sewage dumps crash St. Pete Pier meeting

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A group of frustrated residents showed up with protest signs at a meeting about the new St. Pete Pier on Thursday.

The protestors told city officials they do not feel safe going in area waters after millions of gallons of sewage were dumped into Tampa Bay during Hurricane Hermine.

"I will not let my child go in that water for potential illnesses, waterborne, airborne or otherwise," said Marci Emerson, whose young daughter held a sign that read, 'I cannot learn to sail in sewage' during the public meeting.

Emerson and about five other residents interrupted city architects as they displayed pictures of the pier design to tell them people won't want to go near the new pier if it smells of feces.

During the heavy rainfall of Hurricane Hermine, area water plants were overrun with rainwater, quickly reaching capacity. From St. Pete up to Pasco and Hernando counties, local government officials were left with little options other than dumping an estimated 160 million gallons of sewage into the Bay.

The City of St. Pete said it tested the water released and 100-percent of fecal bacteria was removed.

At least eight other utilities, however, were dumping wastewater during the storm, including Clearwater and Tampa. Some of those dumps included raw sewage.

"They were not putting the level of bacteria out there front and center," said Emerson.

The protesters were asked to leave the meeting for being disrupted. Joining them during their exit was St. Pete City Council Vice Chair Darden Rice.

"They have every right to be angry, they have every right to be here turning up the volume and making this an urgent issue," said Rice, who added that city council did not play a role in the city's decision to release sewer  water from the Alfred Whitted Plant when it reached capacity.

Rice said the council, along with St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, wants $58 million set aside in next year's budget to fix the city's aging sewer system in order to better handle heavy rainfall.

Some residents are urging the city to make the changes now, before rebuilding the pier in early 2017.

"Without cleaning up the sewage, no one is going to be able to enjoy it," said Emerson.

City architects unveiled images of plans for the pier approach, which included a playground, market space and plenty of waterfront viewing areas on land.

Two additional meetings to get public input on the pier design are planned for:

Wednesday, September 14, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the J.W. Cate Recreation Center, 1246 50th Ave. N.

Tuesday, September 20, 6 p.m.-7:30p.m. at the Lake Vista Recreation Center, 1401 62nd Ave. S.

A protester at Tuesday's meeting vowed to show up at the other pier meetings as well.