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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg's sewage system already running at capacity

ST. PETERSBURG — As Tropical Storm Hermine approaches the state, St. Petersburg officials said the city’s sewer system was running at capacity on Wednesday afternoon.

City officials said they've already started to divert sewage to the Albert Whitted treatment facility, which has a 3 million gallon storage capacity.

Mayor Rick Kriseman’s spokesman Ben Kirby said officials didn't know how much storage was left at the Albert Whitted facility as of 2 p.m.

The city said it has not spilled or discharged any sewage yet, Kirby, but “a lot more rain is on the way.”

Kirby said the city’s wholesale sewage customers — St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Gulfport — are also starting to struggle with their own sewage.

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Downpours from Tropical Storm Hermine wreak havoc on Largo sewer system, official says

LARGO — Just as Tropical Depression 9 was upgraded to Tropical Storm Hermine on Wednesday, a Largo official called the city’s sewer system “the worst that anybody’s seen it.”

Todd Tanberg, assistant environmental services director, said manholes all over the city, especially on the western end, were spewing sewage. The wastewater treatment plant off 150th Avenue N also began dumping water into Cross Bayou that had not been dechlorinated.

“The system is surcharged, manholes are going over, pump stations can't keep up with the flow,” he said. “It’s a mess.”

Conditions are expected to worsen tomorrow as the storm pushes closer to land. Tanberg said the city is going to use a new pumping station to speed up water flow to the plant. The station has never been used before, so it’s unclear what impact it will have on plant operations.

The city is asking residents to limit water usage. They can call the environmental services department at (727) 507-4460 to report overflows.

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MIke Twitty eager to get started as Pinellas County appraiser

Businessman Mike Twiitty beat Jim Frishe in the Republican primary to be the next  Pinellas County property appraiser. The Democratic Party did not field a candidate, but Twitty will face write-in challenger Joseph Catalano in November.


Businessman Mike Twiitty beat Jim Frishe in the Republican primary to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser. The Democratic Party did not field a candidate, but Twitty will face write-in challenger Joseph Catalano in November.

Mike Twitty has started a plan to sell his appraisal firm since he won the Republican primary to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser.

Twitty's victory over Jim Frishe in Tuesday's primary election all but secured the appraiser position for the primary winner, who will run against write-in challenger Joseph Catalano, 24, in November. He has not raised any campaign contributions.

Twitty has been a real estate appraiser for more than 26 years and has been the principal officer of his firm, Valbridge Property Advisors, for more than 23 years.

"I'm very much looking forward to it," Twitty said Wednesday about taking office. "It's my way to give back to the community."

In order to avoid conflicts, Twitty said he will sell his interests in the appraisal business before he takes office.

In the primary, Twitty won 60 percent of the vote compared to 40 percent for Frishe, a businessman and former state lawmaker. Of the 72,234 votes in the contest, Twiity won 43 percent from mail ballots. 

To minimize any "learning curve" about the public office, Twitty said he plans to meet with current appraiser Pam Dubov to learn more about how the office operates. …

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Darryl Rouson, Ed Narain enter new phase in Senate 19 race

State Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, who is running in the Democratic primary for Senate District 19, checks updates as the night gets later during a close race during his watch party at Green Bench Brewing Co. Tuesday evening.


State Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, who is running in the Democratic primary for Senate District 19, checks updates as the night gets later during a close race during his watch party at Green Bench Brewing Co. Tuesday evening.

It’s going to be a long week -- or weeks -- for the candidates of Senate District 19.

With all precincts reported (including vote by mail and early voting), unofficial results show that Rep. Darryl Rouson, St. Petersburg, leads Rep. Ed Narain, Tampa, by only 61 votes in the two-county race.

That’s a margin of just 0.16 percent. Recounts in Florida are triggered anytime a candidate leads by a margin within one-half of 1 percent.

So what’s next?

The supervisors of election in Pinellas and Hillsborough will oversee canvassing boards -- groups of three people who review provisional ballots. Those ballots include any voter who did not show a photo ID or whose name was not on the electoral roll for that precinct.

Hillsborough will review about 100 provisional ballots at 11 a.m. Thursday, and Pinellas will review 43 provisional ballots later that day at 3 p.m. …

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CD13 primary ends, Trump enters rhetoric

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, easily defeated retired Marine reserve general Mark Bircher in Tuesday's 13th Congressional District primary.

But within moments of the Associated Press declaring Jolly the winner in a 75-25 percentage point margin victory around 7:35 p.m. (polls closed at 7), his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist fired off the first shot of the general election. 

“This Republican primary season has been pretty frightening. It saddens me to think that anyone who supports Donald Trump's agenda could ever represent Pinellas County. And I look forward to sharing our vision for seniors, veterans, women, students, and our environment in the weeks ahead," Crist said in a statement.

The coming 13th District battle promises to be intense. Jolly hasn't endorsed Trump and said he would probably decide in the voting booth in November if he could even vote for the Republican presidential nominee.

Jolly quickly responded to Crist's statement. …

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Fearing Zika, local businesses join the call for genetically-modified mosquitoes

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is telling residents to lobby the federal government for the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Zika in Pinellas County.

"We cannot afford to have visitors cancel their vacation plans due to the Zika Virus and urge you to provide Pinellas County authorization to combat the Zika Virus immediately," reads a script the chamber is asking locals to read aloud on the phone or paste into an email to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

Last week, a bipartisan coalition of Tampa Bay lawmakers called on Burwell to use an emergency use provision to allow Pinellas to use the modified mosquitoes locally.

Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times published an in-depth story on the genetically-modified mosquitoes proposed to fight Zika.

The mosquitoes, created by a British firm called Oxitec, have virtually eliminated the population of the mosquito that carries Zika in parts of Latin America by mating with wild mosquitoes and killing their offspring. …

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Tampa bike stop numbers continue to drop

Tampa Police Department

The number of bicyclists stopped by police and ticketed continues to decline as a result of a change in tactics by the Tampa Police Department.

"We’ve tried to focus more on our education piece versus citation," Police Chief Eric Ward told the City Council last week. "I think having the officers understand the mission and the goals that we’re trying to achieve is the key to the numbers that we’re seeing trending down."

Ward was named police chief in early May 2015, less than three weeks after the Tampa Bay Times reported that an analysis of more than 10,000 bicycle tickets Tampa police issued over the course of a dozen years. The newspaper found that even though blacks make up about a quarter of the city's population, they received 79 percent of the bike tickets. In the most recent three years studied Tampa officers issued more tickets than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.

A U.S. Justice Department review done in response to the Times' work concluded that the intent of the traffic stops wasn't discriminatory. Rather, officials said, it represented an effort to fight crime and enhance safety. …

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Tampa Sports Authority to consider fate of Sunset Music Festival

Arrests were at a three-year low but two died and more concertgoers required medical treatment during the Sunset Music Festival on May 28-29 at Raymond James Stadium.


Arrests were at a three-year low but two died and more concertgoers required medical treatment during the Sunset Music Festival on May 28-29 at Raymond James Stadium.

The Tampa Sports Authority next month is scheduled to discuss the future of the Sunset Music Festival, the scene this spring of two ecstacy-related deaths and more than 50 ambulance runs to the hospital.

Sports authority president Eric Hart told the Tampa City Council this week the authority’s board plans a special meeting on Sept. 12 “to determine the future of the festival at the grounds” of Raymond James Stadium.

Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne, and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, died after attending the electronic dance music festival outside RayJay from May 28-29. Autopsies found Ecstasy, or MDMA, and a related drug, MDA, in the blood of both. Coroners determined their cause to death to be accidental drug abuse.

They were among 57 concertgoers who were transported by city and county rescue crews from the festival to hospitals. 

At the meeting on Sept. 12, there will be no staff recommendation whether to continue or end the authority’s relationship with the festival, but rather a list of changes the authority would need from the promoter if the event goes on. …

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St. Pete to discuss bringing sunshine, more public input to CRA grants

The St. Petersburg City Council wants to make sure more public input and transparency is involved before more taxpayer dollars are spent from the city’s newly-formed South St. Petersburg Community Renewal Area.

And Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office is on board.

On Thursday, the council unanimously voted to advance ideas by council members Darden Rice and Ed Montanari to develop more citizen input and transparency into CRA procedures.

Since Kriseman announced about $319,000 in tax-incremenet finance district grants for business owners to improve their buildings’ exteriors on Aug. 11,  some residents and several leaders in the predominantly black neighborhoods which comprise most of the CRA have criticized the selection process.

And  a $531 grant that went to the Pinellas County Democratic Party for landscaping sparked public outcry.The party later said it wouldn't accept the grant.

“It’s been a rough week,” said council member Steve Kornell.

The fact that more than ⅓ of the 32 grants went to businesses in the Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods has also been criticized by some.

The CRA’s mission needs to be better communicated, Montanari said.. …

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St. Petersburg's wage-theft program has slow start, needs tweaks

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's wage theft program is a year old. So far, it’s been a pretty quiet debut.

The tally? St. Petersburg received 36 complaints that led to $36,562 in wage claims being paid to employees who work within city limits.

But weak enforcement tools have led to only $12,451 — out of $64,097 awarded — being collected from businesses that a hearing officer found have stolen wages from workers. The rest was brought in through negotiated settlements.

The low number worried some council members who questioned whether the program, slated to receive $127,000 in this year's budget, was worth the cost.

“It seems like a lot of money to me,” said council member Ed Montanari at a City Council commitee meeting Thursday.

The county, which launched its own wage-theft office this year, has had similar results. Another council member, Jim Kennedy, said that he would prefer the city and county merge their offices.

Council member Darden Rice said that was the ultimate goal, but the city should toughen its ordinance first,

“We’re the ones driving this," Rice said. "It would be helpful if we came up with our own solutions.” …

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Tampa City Council honors Monsignor Higgins

Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins who died Wednesday

Times file photo

Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins who died Wednesday

One day after the death of Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins, Tampa City Council honored the Irish priest who was a valued confident to many city and business leaders.

Thursday’s council meeting began with a eulogy written by Steve Michelini, a local political consultant, who has known Higgins since the late 1970s and worked with him to set up Tampa’s cable TV franchise. Higgins baptized all of Michelini’s children and grandchildren.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Monsignor Laurence Higgins, who built a parish and helped build Tampa, dies at 87

The eulogy included this poignant passage:

“He walked with kings, presidents, world leaders, popes, senators and governors, and yet never lost the common touch. He filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. His counsel was sought by many when times were good as well as bad. He saw the ebb and flow of prosperity and decline.

Tampa was chosen as his home, no Tampa chose and embraced him and all he has done. Not a native son by birth but rather a native son by acclimation.” …

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Developer considers selling Shops at Wiregrass

WESLEY CHAPEL – Cleveland-based Forest City Realty Trust Inc. is considering hanging a for-sale sign on its malls and retail centers, including the Shops at Wiregrass.

Forest City announced earlier this week that it was studying “strategic alternatives for the company’s retail portfolio’’ of 14 regional malls and 19 specialty retail centers. The review is expected to be completed in early 2017 with an eye toward funneling proceeds from its mall sales, if that is the preferred alternative, into expanding its holdings in apartments, offices and mixed-use projects.

“They are reviewing just to see what the options are and we do fall within that group,’’ said Greg Lenners, general manager of the Shops at Wiregrass.

It doesn’t necessarily mean any property will change hands. The company’s announcement included the caveat that “there can be no assurance that this review process will result in any transaction being announced on consummated.’’ …

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Hillsborough buses to offer free rides for primary election

Registered voters in Hillsborough can catch a free bus ride to the polls on Tuesday to cast their vote in the primary election.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is offering free rides to customers with a valid voter information card. All they have to do is show their card to the bus operator when boarding.

"I appreciate HART's partnership in helping voters get to the polls on Election Day," said Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. "This is an important election because several new school board members and judges will be elected during this Primary. These are nonpartisan races that everyone will have on their ballot, whether they are affiliated with a party or not."

Riders should look up routes in advance to determine which one gets them closest to their polling place. 

"As a community partner, we take pride in doing our part to offer free bus service to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to vote and are pleased to be able to offer this service to Hillsborough County residents," said Katharine Eagan, HART Chief Executive Officer.

Voters can only use this offer on regular HART buses, not HARTPlus or the TECO Line Streetcar System.


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Non-Clearwater businesses help earn city-specific national title

City Hall this week touted Clearwater's ranking from industry magazine Inc. Media as the No. 1 city in the nation for business growth relative to population size.

There was one problem.

Two of the four companies that earned Clearwater the title with their growth power aren't even in the city.

Although they have Clearwater mailing addresses, E-Telequote Insurance resides in unincorporated Pinellas County and Digital Media Solutions is actually in Dunedin.

E-Telequote had an admirable growth rate of 2,908 percent over the past three years, bringing in $15.5 million in 2015...just not in Clearwater.

And Digital Media Solutions had an 881 percent growth rate and $54.1 million in revenue in 2015...but in Dunedin.

The authentically Clearwater companies that helped earn the ranking, Stratus Video and KnowBe4, are both nestled in a downtown high rise.

Founded in 2010, Stratus Video grew 4,190 percent over the past three years with $11.5 million in revenue in 2015, according to the 35th annual Inc. 500 list, which ranks private, for profit businesses based on revenue hikes. The top spot Clearwater claimed is a sidebar list that rates the top cities based on growth relative to population size.. …

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Florida Senate District 19 candidates make final push before primary

State Rep. Ed Narainï answers a question during the Tiger Bay Club event Friday. The candidates for state Senate District 19 discussed a variety of topics, including gun violence and for-profit prisons.


State Rep. Ed Narainï answers a question during the Tiger Bay Club event Friday. The candidates for state Senate District 19 discussed a variety of topics, including gun violence and for-profit prisons.

TAMPA — The Democratic candidates in a hotly contested race to replace Sen. Arthenia Joyner are making their final push to connect with voters before next week's primary.

Three former and current state representatives along with a lawyer who is self-funding his campaign will square off in another debate tonight, focusing on issues facing young children.

The forum, organized by the Children’s Movement of Florida, starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Robert W. Saunders Library in Tampa. All democratic candidates for Florida Senate District 19, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, are expected to attend.

The candidates — state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, former state representative Betty Reed of Tampa and St. Petersburg's Augie Ribeiro — have faced each other in similar forums all summer long. The typical format doesn’t usually allow for much debate or engagement, so the candidates have taken to other media, such as direct mail and television ads, to try to distinguish themselves from the other democrats in the race. …

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