Clean Water Act Notice sent to St. Pete for Sewage Violations

PRESS RELEASE

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation Send Notice of Clean Water Act Violations to St. Petersburg for Sewage Discharges

September 29, Tampa Bay    

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc. (“SCWK”), Our Children’s Earth Foundation (“OCE”) and Ecological Rights Foundation (“ERF”), filed their Sixty-Day Notice of Violations of Clean Water Act and Notice of Intent to File Suit for serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) at the City of St. Petersburg’s publicly owned treatment works. A 60-day notice is the required first step of filing a formal lawsuit in Federal Court. 

St. Petersburg’s recent extraordinarily large sewage discharges to Tampa Bay have caused serious human health risks and environmental damage. The needed infrastructure improvements are urgent, the ecological impacts will take a long time to heal, as will the damage to the public’s confidence, shaken by the city’s failure to notify and warn the public of these spills. The systemic improvements required to address these shortcomings are significant and will benefit from citizen participation and oversight.

St. Petersburg has acknowledged failures and pledged to address needed sewage system improvements, which is a positive and welcome step, but St. Pete does not have a good record of addressing the root causes of the ongoing sewage system problems. Citizen suit enforcement is needed because the legal system functions differently, and in many cases more efficiently, than the political system. The environmental groups involved in this action have many years of experience addressing sewage system problems, and we will use our expertise to help concerned citizens get enforceable, long-term solutions while also ensuring public oversight and participation. In addition to pursuing long-overdue maintenance and upgrades to the sewage system, we want the city to fund environmental mitigation projects to offset some of the damage done by the discharges and we want residents to have a hand in ensuring these projects are well designed, meet community needs, and are implemented.

Justin Bloom, Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper said, “Sewage contamination is a problem throughout the Suncoast, but pollution from St. Petersburg is particularly acute. Hence, we are focusing first on St. Pete, but hope to stimulate improvements throughout the region.”

Annie Beaman, a member of all three organizations noted, "Spending the last few days watching dead fish wash up on local shores reminds me of the ocean's fragility. The current red tide might have started as a natural phenomenon, but the spate of huge sewage spills has certainly worsened the risks of a prolonged fish-killing event. Massive sewage discharges fuel local waters with nutrients which can feed red tide algae."

"The public owes a big debt to Craven Askew, who risked his job to bring the City's neglect of its sewage system to light. His courage is an example to us all," said Fred Evenson, an attorney for the organizations.

Tiffany Schauer, founder and Executive Director of OCE noted that: "The people, wildlife, estuaries, and businesses that are impacted by ongoing sewage discharges from St. Petersburg cannot afford to wait for possible political solutions after so many years of inaction and delay. OCE has a strong track record of achieving enforceable results for areas blighted by sewage system problems by enforcing the Clean Water Act and navigating the legal system on behalf of citizens. Our goal is to achieve long-term, enforceable, sustainable solutions to St. Pete's egregious sewage pollution issues."

For more information, please contact:

Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper

(941) 275-2922, bloomesq1@gmail.com

Annie Beaman, Our Children’s Earth Foundation

(510) 910-4535, annie.beaman@gmail.com

 


Berfuff appeals Circuit Court ruling on Long Bar Pointe

Developers appeal coastline protection ruling

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Looking south and west from the 75th Street-53rd Avenue roundabout on the mainland south of Cortez Road, lies the pristine mangrove coastline and rich fishing grounds of Sarasota Bay, the undeveloped Long Bar Pointe-Aqua by the Bay project remains the subject of litigation. Islander File Photo: Jack Elka

Next stop for Long Bar Pointe developers: the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

The appeal du jour: 12th Circuit Judge John Lakin’s decisions upholding four Manatee County Comprehensive Plan coastal development policies.

The lead attorney for the developers in Lakin’s courtroom, Bill Moore, of Moore, Bowman & Rix of Sarasota, challenged the constitutionality of the policies on behalf of Long Bar Pointe developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, and their companies, Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII.

Moore filed the appeal against the county Jan. 21 on the heels of Lakin’s amended judgment a week earlier.

The amended judgment added words of finality and reserved jurisdiction to rule on costs the developers will be required to pay Manatee County, but otherwise was word-for-word the same decision issued Jan. 5.

With the litigation filed in October 2014, the developers have been looking to the court to widen their ability to develop coastal and submerged lands as part of a mixed-use development. According to their August 2015 county application, the Long Bar Pointe development, renamed Aqua By The Bay, proposes 3,200 homes and 78,000 square feet of commercial space.

Suncoast Waterkeeper and Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, local nonprofit environmental groups, joined the litigation in November 2015 to support the county before a Dec. 4 hearing, which included arguments from all parties and the interveners.

In Lakin’s post-hearing decisions, he ruled the developers’ lawsuit should have been filed within four years after the county passed its comprehensive plan in 1989 and, therefore, it was more than 20 years too late.

The four comp-plan policies were upheld as legitimate guidelines to protect Manatee County’s coastal resources and not unconstitutional takings of private property, as the developers argued.

While the judge recognized an owner’s rights to water access and the use of coastal and submerged lands, the decision upheld the policies’ restrictions against new boat ramps and dredging of channels and basins.

After the Jan. 5 decision, Moore said he and his clients disagreed with “everything” in Lakin’s written opinion.

Moore and the developers are expected to appeal on grounds the policies seek unconstitutional uncompensated public benefits, vague terms and preclusions rather than reasonable regulations.

Addressing the late-filed lawsuit issue, according to a court paper filed by the developers, they lacked standing to bring a lawsuit on the comp plan policies until June 29, 2012 — the date they took ownership of the property.

“It’s no surprise,” said Justin Bloom, executive director and founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper, an environmental watchdog in Sarasota and Manatee counties, when asked about developers’ appeal.

Bloom expressed doubt about the developers’ success on appeal “given the judges complete and well-supported opinion.”

He said the appellate court might rule with or without oral argument.

“We’ll be there to support the county” with briefs and oral arguments, if allowed, Bloom said.


Party in the Pass gets Front Page Center...

Sandbar rally draws attention to dredging concerns

Published: Sunday, August 23, 2015 at 7:04 p.m.
Staff Photo/Matt Houston
The "Party on the Pass" was held Sunday Aug. 23, 2015 at Big Sarasota Pass to raise awareness about the city's plan to possibly dredge the shoals between Siesta and Lido Keys. Partyers came by boat, kayak, and paddle board and were treated to live music and dancing on the sandbar.

 

 

They came by kayak, sailboat, jet ski, paddleboard, pontoon boat, by whatever watercraft they could to reach a Sunday afternoon beach party the likes of which they believe Sarasota has never before experienced.

On a Big Pass sandbar that at low tide stretched the equivalent of about three city blocks, 2,000 or more beachcombers — with dogs and children in tow — joined “Party on the Pass,” a rally to raise awareness for a cause launched by the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Siesta Key group Save Our Siesta Sand.

The two groups have united to call for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a thorough environmental study of its plan for dredging Big Pass to replenish the beaches on Lido Key. The Corps' permit application is still pending before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, said what is at stake is not just one dredging project but repeated dredging projects.

“Over a 50-year period, they could take enough sand to be equal to three times the volume of the Empire State Building,” Bloom said. “That's a massive amount.”

The Corps contends that dredging a shoal in Big Pass to renourish Lido Key to the north will not impact Siesta Key to the south.

Many Lido residents support the project, which would widen 1.56 miles of Lido beaches by an average of 176 feet.

Many Siesta residents counter that dredging will cause more wave action against their beaches and remove a source of sand that naturally replenishes their island's shores.

“We're not against beach renourishment and dredging per se,” Bloom said. “But it should be based on the best available science and adequate public input.”

Leaders of Sunday's demonstration want the Corps to conduct an “environmental impact study” rather than the narrower “environmental assessment” that the Corps prefers, Bloom said. “It's much broader and will include input by other agencies. It's a higher standard of review ... . We're just saying slow down. Let's use science. Let's use common sense.”

Rich Schineller, an advocate for both organizations, said one unknown is the “potential damage to marine life.”

Bloom said skeptics of the project worry that the dredged pass will become “a sand bank” that will be used not just for Lido but for renourishment projects throughout the region.

Jeanne Ezcurra of Save Our Siesta Sand said a Facebook.com page posted a few weeks ago started building support for the sand bar rally as hundreds upon hundreds promised to attend.

“This is awesome,” she said of the crowd that danced to a disc jockey's music, played Frisbee and relaxed on their boats and in beach chairs as they sipped beers and soda. “People have been very receptive.”

“Very receptive” is just the term that Eric Rubin used as well. Rubin took the opportunity to get signatures on petitions to put two state constitutional amendments on the 2016 ballot. One is to legalize medical marijuana and the other to allow residents to sell their excess solar power to their neighbors. He expected to have several hundred signatures before he headed back to shore.

“We're happy the community has shown their ability to appreciate Big Pass and hope that translates into support for preserving it,” Schineller said of the turnout. “It is certainly gratifying, it really is, to see people having a good time and being here for a common purpose.”


PLAINTIFFS WANT CLOSER SCRUTINY OF POWER PLANT COOLING SYSTEMS

A Sarasota environmental group is joining with other environmental activists nationally in suing two federal agencies as they seek to force greater scrutiny of power plant cooling systems known to kill aquatic species.

The lawsuit was filed early this month in federal court in San Francisco by Sarasota-based Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups.

Read more

Sea Turtle Deaths Challenged by Environmental Groups

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and others have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Driving this action is the “incidental taking” of thousands of sea turtles that get sucked into power plant cooling system intakes, pinned against the intake screens, and either crushed or suffocated to death.  This “entrapment” occurs most frequently (85%) with females of breeding age, which not only results in the death of the individual, but eliminates the individual’s potential reproductive contribution to the species.

Read more

Dredging in Sarasota

The City of Sarasota is moving towards granting permits for maintenance dredging, with no environmental review. Speak up Sarasotans!  Call the city commission or attend an upcoming commission meeting.

Read more

Dredging Permits

Whenever someone plans to disturb the ground in waters of the United States (including wetlands and benthic surfaces), they generally need authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.[1]  Disturbances can take the form of “placement of fill material, grading, mechanized land clearing, and redeposit of excavated/dredged material.”[2]

Read more


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