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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Black pastors want new early voting site in St. Pete; Pinellas says no, and says existing plan is good for 'all voters'

The pastors of two predominantly black churches in St. Petersburg called for an additional early voting site in South St. Pete Friday, and were joined by Mayor Rick Kriseman in what one pastor called an issue of "civil rights."

Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark heard their concerns but she held firm on her existing plan for five early voting sites, calling it "solid" and in the best interests of all county voters.

The Rev. Louis Murphy and the Rev. Manuel Sykes held a news conference at the Lake Vista Recreation Center, which they suggested would be an ideal early voting site.

"Why not have a voting site right in our community which would make it easier for people to vote?" Murphy said. "Too long, we have been struggling for this right to vote." He said the lack of an early voting site in the heart of the black community was part of an effort to "suppress" voter turnout. …

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Brandes says he tried to help on sewers, Kriseman wanted money for ferry

Mayor Rick Kriseman and Council member Steve Kornell, both Democrats, in recent days have chalked up interest among Republican lawmakers in the city's massive sewage dumps to politics.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott's state investigation? Politics, said Kriseman. Congressman David Jolly and Sen. Marco Rubio's calls for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency probe? Grandstanding, said Kornell.

State Sen, Jeff Brandes, State Sen. Jack Latvala and State Rep. Kathleen Peters have also been vocal on the issue and were also accused of a pile-on by Kornell, who said none of them ever offered help after last August's initial spills and dumps.

Not true, Brandes said. He offered to help secure state aid at a meeting with Kriseman's team, but they had other priorities, including a the cross-bay ferry, set to debut in November.

"We asked, 'What do you need on sewers? What we got back was crickets," Brandes said of his budge discussions with Kriseman's office last fall.  "They had other priorities. They made it seem like they had everything under control."

A list of the city's priorities for state funding provide to the Tampa Bay Times in March doesn't list any sewer proposals.  …

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Clearwater Chamber's political committee endorses incumbent Republicans in state races

CLEARPAC, the political arm of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, has announced its endorsements for the November election. 

The political committee is backing all Republican incumbents for Florida House and Senate races covering north Pinellas County: Jack Latvala in the District 20 state senate race (who, by the way, is being “challenged” by a silent write-in candidate Katherine Perkins, who has not made a single public campaign appearance, returned repeated phone calls or notes left at her home by a reporter); Chris Sprowls for state house District 65; Larry Ahern for state house District 66; Chris Latvala for state house District 67; and Kathleen Peters for state house District 69.

CLEARPAC also endorsed Matthew Stewart for school board District 1 and Carol Cook for school board District 5, which are non partisan races.

The board told the public to research the two candidates for Pinellas County Commission District 3, saying both incumbent Charlie Justice, a Democrat, and challenger Mike Mikurak, a Republican, were well qualified. …

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Jolly turning St. Pete sewage crisis to state law enforcement authorities

Minutes after Mayor Rick Kriseman finished telling CIty Council members that his administration would devote more attention, manpower and time to the city's sewage crisis, Congressman David Jolly announced that, after talking with whistleblower plant operator Craven Askew and reviewing the facts of the case, he's turning it over to state law enforcement,

Jolly's said unnamed state law enforcement officials with oversight over environmental matters agreed with his assessment and will start a formal investigation.

Here is Jolly's statement:  …

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Tampa gets a new Sister City: Lanzhou, China

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signs Tampa’s newest Sister City agreement on Sunday in Lanzhou, China. Pictured,  left to right, are Deborah Wilkinson, executive director of Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council; Linman Li, director of Asia programs at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine; USF Health assistant vice president of international affairs Lynette Menezes; Absolute Mobile Solutions president Alfred Goldberg; USF internal medicine department chairman John Sinnott; and Lanzhou city officials Yongning Yue, Zhaocheng Huo and Yujian Huo.

City of Tampa

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signs Tampa’s newest Sister City agreement on Sunday in Lanzhou, China. Pictured, left to right, are Deborah Wilkinson, executive director of Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council; Linman Li, director of Asia programs at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine; USF Health assistant vice president of international affairs Lynette Menezes; Absolute Mobile Solutions president Alfred Goldberg; USF internal medicine department chairman John Sinnott; and Lanzhou city officials Yongning Yue, Zhaocheng Huo and Yujian Huo.

Lanzhou, China has a history as a global trading hub going back to its presence as a key stop on the ancient Silk Road.

Now Lanzhou has a new partner for commerce and cultural exchange: the city of Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed a Sister Cities agreement with his counterpart from Lanzhou, a metropolis with a population of more than 2 million, this week during a trade mission to China.

City officials said the agreement is the latest step in an 8-year relationship between the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and the Health and Family Planning Commission of Gansu Province, of which Lanzhou is the capital.

“This agreement strengthens Tampa’s competitiveness as an emerging player on the global stage,” Buckhorn said in an announcement released Thursday. “It bolsters the Morsani College of Medicine and USF’s relationship with the top-notch institutions in Lanzhou.” …

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Kornell blasts recent GOP interest in St. Pete sewage crisis

Last August, when 31.5 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage spilled from the city's Southwest wastewater treatment plant, Steve Kornell was outraged. 

But, he said, only one state or federal elected official called him to see what she could do: U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. 

The Tampa Democrat showed concern about Eckerd College and local residents affected by the spill, he said.

Now,  Republicans like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. David Jolly have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection to investigate. Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, has launched a state investigation. State GOP lawmakers like Jack Latvala, Kathleen Peters and Jeff Brandes have held public meeting about the issue.

None of those elected officials contacted him last year, said Kornell, a Democrat.

"Now to come out and pile on? What are they going to do to help us solve the problem?" Kornell said. "Grandstanding, it's not helpful."

Castor has recently asked the EPA for technical assistance and help for the beleaguered region, which has seen more than 250 million gallons spilled.  …

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Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch accuses CareerSource Pinellas CEO Ed Peachy of violating rules

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch

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Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch accused the leader of CareerSource Pinellas of terminating a contract with an accounting firm without approval from the agency's 29-member board.

Welch lodged the complaint Wednesday against CareerSource president and CEO Ed Peachy during a monthly board meeting. Welch said he discovered that the contract with CliftonAllenLarson had been terminated on Aug. 26 --- four days before Peachy called an emergency meeting of CareerSource's audit committee to consider the move.

On Aug. 30, the committee voted 3-2 against the measure. Peachy wanted to hire a new auditor after learning that CliftonAllenLarson hired Sue Pagan, the former chief financial officer at CareerSource Pinellas. Welch said he called the accounting firm to ask about the conflict and discovered that a CareerSource attorney already sent an email to end the contract.

"This is the issue of the highest concern to me," Welch said, adding he would alert county commissioners and administrators about the move.

"Who authorized this termination on Aug. 26? To this day, the audit committee has not given approval to terminate the contract." …

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Hillsborough commissioners propose regional task force on sewage spills

The beach at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park was closed last week as a result of the 151 million gallons of waste water that the city discharged or spilled during and after Hurricane Hermine.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The beach at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park was closed last week as a result of the 151 million gallons of waste water that the city discharged or spilled during and after Hurricane Hermine.

Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to propose a regional task force to discuss how storm-driven flooding threatens to overwhelm local sewer systems.

“We’ve talked about regional approaches to a lot of different things,” said commissioner Sandra Murman, who proposed having Hillsborough utilities officials talk with their counterparts in surrounding counties and cities. “I think we need to look at a longer-term plan going down the road to prevent these spillages and other incidents from happening.”

Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission officials said water quality samples taken from 108 sites around the bay, including some in Pinellas County and close to St. Petersburg, since Hurricane Hermine have found levels of bacteria that are a little above average but still below state standards.

“The story here is not much a bacteria story because of the size of the bay, because of the recirculation and the flushing of the bay,” said Sam Elrabi, the EPC’s water division director. Tampa Bay flushes itself out completely as often as every nine days and at least every 30 days. …

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Jolly offers whistleblower protection to any worker with info about St. Pete sewage spills

U.S. Rep. David Jolly has already asked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate St. Petersburg's sewer crisis.

Now he's offering to protect whistleblowers. One such whistleblower, Craven Askew, the Northeast plant operator, has already come forward with information about a 2014 study that warned against shuttering the Albert Whitted plant and questioning Mayor Rick Kriseman's statements about the health risks about a 58 million gallon spill in at the city's Northwest wastewater plant. 

Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times late Tuesday that he and Askew are working together from now on to root out 

Here is the statement: 

"Congressman David Jolly today is encouraging any city employees with information about the St. Petersburg sewage spills to come forward to his office for assistance with whistleblower protection. It is clear that the community will only benefit from greater transparency – transparency that may only be possible through increased employee protections.”

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Gwen Graham: FDEP at fault for not telling public about Mosaic spill

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is criticizing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its handling of the sinkhole at Mosaic's New Wales phosphate plant

GwenGraham.com

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is criticizing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its handling of the sinkhole at Mosaic's New Wales phosphate plant

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, has slammed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for failing to notify the public about the leak of contaminated waste water into a huge sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales phosphate processing plant in Mulberry.

The 45-foot wide sinkhole was discovered on Aug. 27 and the DEP was notified one day later. Some 215 million gallons of acidic water laced with sulphur and sodium drained into the hole and is believed to have drained into the Floridan Aquifer, the source of drinking water for much of Florida.

But it was only after the sinkhole was reported in the media three weeks later that the DEP acknowledged the spill and announced that it would coordinate with Mosaic for the testing of wells on neighboring properties. 

DEP officials said Florida law doesn't require the state or the company involved to notify anyone until there's some sign the pollution has migrated outside the property where it went into the aquifer.  

They said the department has gone “above and beyond the requirements of Florida law by working with Mosaic to notify the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested.” …

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Kriseman places top sewer officials on unpaid leave

Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose administration is now the subject of a state probe and a possible federal investigation, has placed his Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt and Engineering Director Tom Gibson on unpaid administrative leave.

The news came minutes after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the city's sewage dumps and spills, which total 151 million gallons after Hurricane Hermine. 

Congressman David Jolly has asked for a U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency probe into the damage caused by the spills and who is responsible. 

Gibson signed the task order for a 2014 study that warned the city's sewer system might not be able to handle the closure Albert Whitted, the waterfront sewer plant. That plant's 2015 shuttering was quickly followed by spills and dumps since August 2015 that total nearly 200 million gallons.

Leavitt ran the department that oversaw the city's three wastewater treatment plants. 

Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley named John Palenchar as Leavitt's replacement. Palenchar, formerly the environmental compliance manager, ran the city's testing program after sewage releases.   …

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Mosaic spill not expected to reach Hillsborough, official says

An estimated 215 million gallons of tainted water disappeared down this 300-foot-deep sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate processing plant in August. An official said Wednesday it is not expected to reach Hillsborough County about a mile away.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

An estimated 215 million gallons of tainted water disappeared down this 300-foot-deep sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate processing plant in August. An official said Wednesday it is not expected to reach Hillsborough County about a mile away.

The spill of 215 million gallons of contaminated water from a Mosaic phosphate plant into the Floridan Aquifer is not expected to affect Hillsborough County anytime soon, and quite possibly not ever, a Hillsborough County Environmental Protection official said Wednesday.

The Mosaic New Wales plant, which processes phosphate rock that’s mined elsewhere into fertilizer, is a little more than a mile east of the Hillsborough-Polk county line.

Processed waste water leaked from a storage pond on the property down into the Floridan Aquifer, the underground source of drinking water for millions of Floridians, through a 300-foot-deep sinkhole last month.

The flow of the aquifer in that area is to the west-southwest towards Hillsborough, according to Sam Elrabi, water division director for the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission. But he said a couple of factors are expected to keep it from reaching Hillsborough.

First, the flow is very slow. Absent other efforts to keep the contaminated water from going off-site, it might take up to two years for the contaminated plume to reach the Hillsborough County line, Elrabi told Hillsborough County commissioners. …

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Whistleblower says NW plant spill dirtier than Kriseman claims

One of the city’s top wastewater officials once again blew the whistle Tuesday, claiming that a 58-million-gallon spill earlier this month at the city’s Northwest plant was a public safety threat.

"I noticed the following 10 violation througout the spill," wrote Craven Askew, who runs the city's Northeast wastewater treatment plant. "Public safety and the environment is suspected to be possibly in danger due to the sewer (sic) spills produced by the Albert Whitted....and Northwest (plant) spills." 

That claim, delivered via email to city officials, directly contradicts Mayor Rick Kriseman’s earlier assertions that the massive spill was essentially reclaimed water---or what residents sprinkle on their lawns.

Askew said high turbidity levels for about 30 hours between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 indicate sewage considerably dirtier than that which Kriseman characterized as clean last week.

Kriseman said low fecal coliform counts are what is important. He said until he sees proof otherwise, he’s sticking by his previous positions. …

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Jolly said he's close to calling for EPA investigation of St. Pete sewage dumps

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, locked in a battle with former Gov. Charlie Crist for the 13th Congressional District seat, said Tuesday he would "very, very likely" call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate  St. Petersburg's release of  about 151 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays since Hurricane Hermine.

Jolly's comment came a day after a debate in which Crist, lambasted the Republican incumbent for not moving to help the city in a sewage crisis that Crist compared to the environmental disaster in Flint, Mich.

Jolly said Mayor Rick Kriseman hadn't asked for help (which Kriseman's office confirmed Tuesday). Crist responded that Jolly shouldn't wait for an invitation to offer aid.

"Charlie got a good lick on me, I realize that," Jolly said. "I sounded flippant, but it really is a jurisdictional issue. Congress doesn't do sewers. Typically, when municipalities need help, they ask for it."

Jolly cited Largo approaching his office for help on their sewer system, currently under a state consent order. Clearwater has called him for help on a troublesome HUD issue. That's how it typically works, Jolly said. …

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Internal Jolly poll shows tight race

Internal polls ordered by political candidates should be taken with a grain of salt.

On the day of a televised debate between incumbent Congressman David Jolly and former governor Charlie Crist, who are vying for 13th Congressional District seat, Jolly's campaign released a survey showing the two tied at 46 percent with 8 percent undecided.

Data Targeting interviewed 300 active registered voters on land lines and cell phones between Sept. 8 and Sept. 10.

The results showed Jolly and Crist tied again with a 46 percent favorability rating.  Thirty-seven percent of potential voters had an unfavorable opinion of Crist compared to 16 percent for Jolly.

All but 3 percent of respondents had heard of Crist while 16 percent had never heard of Jolly, who has represented Pinellas County in the U.S. Congress since early 2014. 

Tonight's debate, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, 10NewsWTSP and St. Petersburg College's Institute for Policy Solutions will be held at The Palladium Theater, 253 5th Ave N, in St. Petersburg. 

The 7 p.m. debate, modereated by the Times' Adam Smith and 10NewsWTSP's Mark Rivera, will be televised live on 10NewsWTSP. 

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