After Hurricane Irma swept through the state, power outages resulted in 989 wastewater spills, totaling more than 9 million gallons of unauthorized sewage release.
Legislation (HB 837) sponsored by Plantation Democratic state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole would attempt to reduce those discharges by helping utilities gain compliance with industry standards. It was advanced unanimously by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday.
If the bill became law, the voluntary “blue star collection system assessment and maintenance program” would be created to limit the number of unauthorized releases. The program would be administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Blue star certified utilities would be issued a 10-year permit for the same fee and under the same conditions as a five-year permit upon approval of its application renewal by DEP if the utility demonstrates that it is in compliance and does not have any pending enforcement action against it by the EPA, the DEP or a local program.
Coconut Creek Democrat Kristin Jacobs asked Edwards-Walpole if there was any hurdle the utilities needed to overcome initially to get into the five-year certification if they previously were responsible for excessive power failures.
Edwards-Walpole admitted that there would be some “perpetual bad actors,” who don’t have any incentive to get into the program. This bill would simply allow them to be rolled from a five-year permit to a 10-year one if they performed ably enough.
The bill is sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who championed a version of the same bill a year ago that failed to make it to the governor’s desk.
In the past two years, according to DEP, there were just over 1,000 spills related to a loss of power, including some significant ones in the Tampa Bay area.
Sewage spills in St. Petersburg and south Pinellas were so prevalent in 2016 that the issue became a major talking point for critics of incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, who faced a daunting reelection campaign in 2017 that at times was dominated by his handling of the sewage situation. The city has since committed to spending more than $300 million to fix sewers by 2021.