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Wastewater stink, inequality in spending dominate city agenda

By Tim Croft
The Star

Port St. Joe commissioners began Tuesday’s meeting figuring on hearing plenty of complaints about the stink last week from the city’s wastewater treatment pond. 

Instead, they heard much more about perceived inequities in how residents of the north and south sides of the city are treated and how commissioners spend money. 

The topic of the “stink” as most of Highland View might conservatively call it, is a rite of summer, with winds, rains, heat and humidity conspiring, city staff said. 

Kevin Pettis, supervisor of the wastewater department, said he had no immediate solution, but added, to which commissioners agreed, a quick biologic treatment alleviated the issue by the end of last week. 

“By Wednesday it was gone,” Pettis said. “The treatment part is working. 

“We did all we could. Summer is the hardest on the pond. I don’t have any solutions other than what we are doing.” 

The past two years the city has turned to a company with a biological solution to the sludge and algae build-up in the wastewater treatment ponds, essentially loosing bacteria that loves to eat the yuk. 

The treatment has proved a success, but where immediate relief from stink might be needed, it is not a placebo. 

“It is slow, it does take a couple of days to work,” Pettis said. 

As to the source of a foreign substance, likely grease, entering the system at the same time the stink fully arose, Pettis said he and his crew may never know if there was a connection. 

“There are a lot of pipe and places where people can put in things they should not,” Pettis. “Maybe we can get some education out of all this.” 

Asked about aerators the city once employed this time of year in the pond, Pettis noted a prior board had made the decision to pull the plug on what was hundreds of thousands of dollars in power bills. 

“I don’t want to go back to paying $400,000 for aerators,” Commissioner Brett Lowry said.  

Commissioner Scott Hoffman asked Pettis to investigate potential solutions for the late summer and the pond emits its odor. 

The biologics are working, but something for the fall could be in order. 

“We all agree we have a problem during certain times of the year,” Hoffman said. “We need to look at options.  

“There might be grants out there.” 

Pettis said he would reach out to Florida Rural Water and others for possible solutions. 

Hoffman said if the summer winds blew the other direction and the stink was descending on Port St. Joe, commissioners might be more inclined to action. 

Which proved, after several other items of business, a perfect segue to the last portion of Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting and a discussion about how folks in different neighbors are treated. 

Linda Tschudi was the strongest voice, noting her displeasure with the slow nature of the city’s pipe replacement in her North Port St. Joe neighborhood. 

“We all know it is not right,” she said, referring to raw sewage in her house at times. 

Commissioners did approve Tuesday a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to continue pipe replacement on the north side; other parts of the city were completed years ago. 

“These pipes, the problems, it’s far too long,” Tschudi said. “We have a problem, serious problems.” 

She also noted the lack of city investment in the Washington Gym complex, which also brought other speakers to the podium. 

Another criticized the lack of a covered area at Forest Hill Cemetery, a traditionally Black cemetery. 

Projects 

The city has secured sufficient funding to repair lift stations at First and 20th Streets. 

The city continues to work with FEMA on a full replacement, but that has proved a slog and insurance stepped up to fund the rebuilds, said financial officer Mike Lacour. 

In addition, insurance has stepped forward with dollars to replace the historic Maddox House and bathroom. 

Work on replacing the gazebo at Frank Pate Park should begin within the next week. 

Insurance stipend 

In an effort to save some city dollars, commissioners approved offering a stipend of $300 per month for any employee who chooses to leave the city’s health plan. 

The city currently pays nearly $800 per month per employee. 

The employee would have to demonstrate holding other insurance which meets city requirements. 

Hoffman has talked that for some eligible employees, Medicare could be a better option for employee and the city.