St. Petersburg has a reputation as Florida's "First Green City." After an extremely unfortunate series of events led the city government to close one of its four sewage treatment plants in 2015, St. Pete experienced massive and repeated sewage dumps. Local officials have regularly minimized the sewage pollution problem, and failed to provide adequate public disclosures about the scope, impacts, and risks associated with sewage discharges on this level. This instinct to downplay the significance of sewage pollution undermines public trust and confidence that city officials will address the underlying causes of the problem.
In late 2016, heavy rains led to enormous sewage dumps that fouled the water, caused dozens of threatened black skimmers to die of salmonella poisoning, and likely fueled a red tide event. We notified St. Pete of our intention to file a Clean Water Act citizen suit to address the problem, and offered a solution to avoid litigation in the form of a model "consent decree" that would provide Federal Court oversight of long-term sewage system improvements. The City refused to negotiate pre-suit and Suncoast Waterkeeper filed suit in December of 2016, along with the Ecological Rights Foundation and Our Children's Earth.
Instead of working with us, St. Pete instead focused on fighting the lawsuit while negotiating a "consent order" with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP"), that was inadequate. DEP has a record of lax enforcement of these orders, and the process in St. Pete was tainted by yet another scandal, as the DEP official investigating the city's sewage problem was simultaneously being offered a job by St. Pete.
The litigation was intense and complicated, demanding significant resources and time from both sides. Having benefitted from winning rulings from the Federal Court and with reams of strong evidence and expert opinions, we ultimately reached a settlement agreement with St. Petersburg that accomplishes our goals of ensuring adequate investigation, remediation, planning, financing and oversight under Federal Jurisdiction, while improving public notification of health hazards related to poor water quality and funding of an ecological restoration project through the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
This case contributed an important legal precedent to Clean Water Act Citizen Suit enforcement in Florida. The judge found that "Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment because Florida's enforcement procedures are not sufficiently comparable to those in the CWA."
SEE THE AWARD WINNING VIDEO - ST. PETE UNFILTERED
Original Draft Consent Decree proposed by non-profits