Nonprofits Can Pursue Claims Over Dumped Florida Sewage

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – A federal judge will allow a trio of environmental nonprofits to press claims the city of Gulfport, Florida, illegally dumped raw sewage into the Gulf of Mexico and other waterways.

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation sued the city on Jan. 4 over alleged sewage “overflows” the groups say violate the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

The plaintiffs claim sewage overflows consisting of raw and partially-treated sewage have repeatedly poured out of Gulfport’s wastewater collection system, and because wastewater collected within Gulfport is ultimately transported to St. Petersburg’s publicly-owned treatment works facilities, Gulfport has also caused or contributed to sewage overflows in the Tampa Bay area.

Gulfport moved for dismissal of the case on the grounds the nonprofits had no standing because they didn’t identify any injuries “fairly traceable to Defendant’s conduct.”

In ruling against the city, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew said 11th Circuit precedent undermined the city’s position.

Gulfport also filed a request for judicial notice of several of the plaintiffs’ declarations regarding the alleged problems experienced in St. Petersburg, which Judge Bucklew denied.

“Defendant is asking the Court to take judicial notice of its assertion that, if Plaintiffs had any accusations against the City of Gulfport, they would have made those accusations as part of their declarations given against the City of St. Petersburg,” Bucklew wrote. “That, however, would require the Court to assume that Plaintiffs are unable to make any factual allegations against Defendant Gulfport merely because Plaintiffs did not make those allegations in declarations that were prepared and submitted in a separate case against a separate defendant. ”

“The St. Petersburg declarations are not proper to consider in the instant case because they do not indisputably establish any facts relevant to Plaintiffs’ allegations against Gulfport, and they are not central to Plaintiffs’ claims in this case,” the order continues.

The City of Gulfport did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

But Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, said the ruling is cause for celebration.

“I think it supports citizen’s rights to address the failures of municipalities like Gulfport and St. Petersburg to protect the public from harm resulting from neglect of the basic sewage infrastructure needs of the community,” Bloom said.

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