Residents of St. Pete protest the bad smell that covers the community

S T. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFTS) — For the people who live in Maximo Moorings, all they want is a breath of fresh air.

Imagine walking out your door and being hit with a foul stench.

That is a reality for the people of Maximo Moorings.

It was not the welcome from the neighborhood that Dawn Wightman expected.

“I didn’t know moving here was a thing. Never. Never revealed or anything. In hindsight, I probably never would have bought my house. And I love my house,” she said.

Directly across the street is the Southwest Water Reclamation Plant.

“We’ll be relaxing by the pool, and all of a sudden the wind will change. And the moment the wind changes, there it is. We’ll go inside the house. So when we have guests, we can’t even go outside because of the smell. You know, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

Wightman isn’t the only person who finds himself going further inland. The smell of sewage and more ruined neighbor Jennifer DiGiacinto’s New Year’s plans.

“Just on New Year’s Day, we were having a bottle of champagne and my guests and I were overwhelmed with hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, a very strong smell of ammonia where our eyes were watering. And our throat, it was making us cough and we had to go into the house. That was it. It was an end,” DiGiacinto said.

She said the smell is inescapable.

“I smell it at least four or five times a week in my house, in my backyard, by my pool.”

In 2018, we told you how the city installed new misting diffusers at the plant, filling the air with essential oils. Yet five years later, people across the street said it still reeks of rotten eggs, sewage, and even ammonia.

Bill Mellon has lived in the neighborhood since the late 1980s. He said those essential oils were less essential.

“It’s the same thing that we spray in our house to cover up the smell, but the smell doesn’t go away,” he said.

And as the stench lingers throughout the community, neighbors like Rosalyn King said it’s starting to smell like a health problem.

“The stench of the smell of the plant is so strong, that if we want to be in our yards, doing any work in our yards, when that smell is like that, we have to mask ourselves to protect ourselves and our health,” he said, clinging to his face mask.

The house at Maximo Moorings has been in the King family for some 50 years. She says that she doesn’t want to let it go, but the growing problem is worrisome.

“From everything I’ve learned, people everywhere are affected. There are devastating results in health, in respiratory problems, in allergies, in neurological problems, including dementia, and in cancers and the like. And So we’re very concerned because we feel like we’re being pawns in the situation, and it’s not getting better, and it’s gotten worse,” King said.

No one from the city had time to do an interview despite repeated requests from ABC Action News. The city provided this letter that was sent to the people of Maximo Moorings last week. The letter said that they continue to work on solutions for three potential sources of the odor, including an odor control system scheduled to be completed this winter.


R. Scott Lewis

It also explains how the city installed deodorizing blocks in the neighborhood sewers. The plan is to change them every four months.

Wightman doesn’t feel like that helps.

“I was literally screaming when they changed my sewer. It was open for an hour and I looked at the workers and said, ‘Do you smell anything? I don’t smell anything coming out. You’re right on top of it. Do you smell it?’ That’s not going to do anything. It’s not where it’s coming from. You can see it coming from there. Well, you can’t see it, but you can smell it,” Wightman said.

Community members believe the plant is working even harder since the downtown one closed; now pumping out even more wastewater from the population growth we’ve seen downtown.

“I don’t think they imagined how many more apartments they were going to build there, creating more sewage, sewage,” Mellon said.

The group of residents, now united by a shared revulsion at the smell outside, say they won’t stop until the city does something that actually allows them to breathe fresh air.

“They need to cover those tanks. And many communities cover those tanks. But they don’t want to do it,” she added.

ABC Action News will be keeping an eye on this issue to find out what city leaders can do to clear the air, and when neighbors can expect some relief.

The folks here encourage anyone who smells the stench to report it to the city, Nextdoor or SeeClickFix.