ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg Friday suggested the state provide funding for Florida communities plagued by degraded storm water and sewer pipes.
"I would prefer to see block grants -- let's set aside some funds, and block grant the local level," Brandes told a community meeting in Gulfport, after saying he does not trust a state process to fairly prioritize needs.
Later he told FOX 13 lawmakers statewide are hearing about the same need to patch systems neglected for decades.
"If you look around south Florida, Jacksonville, the panhandle -- many of these cities have a very similar age to them," the senator pointed out.
The Gulfport meeting was prompted by the city of St. Petersburg's deliberate dumping of partially treated sewage and storm water into Clam Bayou, an estuary on the boundary between the two municipalities.
Cindy Davis, who keeps a boat at the Gulfport marina, told the audience: "Today I walked out on the dock and I saw biological matter floating -- I have video... [which she later shared with FOX 13] It's actually really heartbreaking."
St. Petersburg has been relining water pipes for 15 years, and Thursday city council members were told at the current pace the process will take 75 years to finish.
St. Petersburg officials claim more than half of the water sent to three treatment plants intruded into the system during an unusually prolonged heavy rain event.
Gulfport just started addressing the same plumbing issue, by borrowing $25 million from the state.
"It's not just that people are using the water out of their faucets and flushing their toilet more," Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson told FOX 13. "It's that rain water, when it gets up above the pipe, it infiltrates the old pipes and you end up with water that shouldn't even be in that system but overwhelms it."
St. Petersburg city councilman Steve Kornell attended the Gulfport meeting, and apologized for what he believes were mistakes made by his city.
One of four treatment plants was recently closed before sufficient capacity for its load was built at another treatment plant.
Until Thursday, Kornell was also not aware how long patching St. Petersburg's pipes will take.
"Council had always been presented that everything was fine, we have a robust program, we're doing it this percent a year, everything's good -- and clearly not. Clearly not," Kornell said.
St. Petersburg city officials did not respond to questions about the overall cost of the repair work. It is probably measured by the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"They need $20 million just for their sewer system in St. Pete Beach," Brandes said. "The numbers get staggering, and it's going to take a long term discussion."