ST. PETE BEACH — City commissioners voted unanimously to approve a project to improve the quality of stormwater runoff into Boca Ciega Bay in response to an unauthorized sewage system discharge assessment by the state.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, between Aug. 15 and Aug. 17, 2019, and again on Oct. 19, 2019, the city discharged about 661,726 gallons of untreated wastewater into a storm drain leading into Boca Ciega Bay. The department fined the city $40,000.

In order to defray the cost of the assessment, the city decided to undertake an in-kind project to improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the area.

During their June 8 meeting, commissioners contracted with Rowland Inc. to install a “baffle box” at 36th Avenue to collect grass clippings, sediment, trash and nutrient debris in an underground storage vault at a cost of $147,833. The captured sediment is pumped out and transported to a landfill.

“The alternative is all of this will end up in the bay if we didn’t do this,” City Manager Alex Rey noted.

Brett Warner, the city’s assistant public works director, told commissioners, “The instillation of this baffle box is proposed to really addresses a couple of different issues we have going on. One is removing a lot of nutrients and sediments from our stormwater discharge … In addition to the city's project to install this baffle box, the Florida Department of Transportation has a parallel project, which has been bid and awarded, to install tidal check valves immediately downstream from the city's baffle box,” he told commissioners.

That valve will prevent tidal water from flowing back through the baffle box, which reduces its sediment retention capabilities, Warner explained. The baffle box installation will also satisfy the city's obligation to perform an in-kind project in response to the $40,000 in penalties resulting from the overflows.

Warner noted this neighborhood is one of the lowest lying areas in the city, “so the check value installed by the state will help address tidal flooding that comes up through the stormwater inlets at the intersection of 36th Avenue and Casablanca (Avenue).”

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said that part of the city has been “a real challenging area. I appreciate you moving this along.”

DEP officials stated that “in lieu of making cash payment of the amount required, the department, at its discretion, may allow the City of St. Pete Beach to offset this amount by implementing an in-kind project, which must be approved by the department. An in-kind project must be either an environmental enhancement, environmental restoration or a capital facility.”

Instillation of the baffle box at a cost of $147,833 was approved as an in-kind project.

Welcome signs coming

By September, visitors to St. Pete Beach and residents will be greeted by a new array of stylish wayfinding welcome and facilities signs, befitting its “Sunset Capital of Florida” motto.

The signs will all have a brown wooden appearance, with tall white capital letters heralding the facility, such as “City Hall.” Above the facility’s name will be the city’s orange sun logo, with letters spelling out “St. Pete Beach” in script, and below that, the city’s motto, “Sunset Capital of Florida.”

Signs will welcome visitors at various entry points into St. Pete Beach. They will be located at the South Pasadena Causeway, Pinellas Bayway, at the northern entrance to the city along Blind Pass by McKenny Park and at the Don CeSar Hotel. The signs will be lit at night.

In addition, ten signs will be installed at City Hall, Egan Park, McKenny Park, Horan Park, Hurley Park, Pass-A-Grille Park, Public Works, the Community and Aquatic Center, and the east and west entrances to Corey Avenue touting “shop, dine, unwind.”

City commissioners unanimously approved appropriating $186,629 to pay for the signs.

Fireworks launch site relocated

Rey told city commissioners there are no barges available to rent this year that can provide a platform to launch offshore fireworks. As a result, the city plans to fire off its light show from Upham Beach on Sunday, July 4th. On that day a portion the beach will have to be cordoned off to the public to prepare for the event.

Rey said the city will consider purchasing its own barge that can be used by the city for various projects as well as future fireworks shows.