Here we go again. No, not elections, although they’re their own heaping mess of fun, too. No, I’m talking about Clam Bayou. Tuesday night, the Bayou was once again in the center ring of the circus at Gulfport city council. Holly Greening, the Executive Director for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, gave a highly scientific presentation about Clam Bayou. Apparently to refute her comments, Tom Reese, Al and Cindy Davis’ attorney, spoke during the public session.
To most on council and gathered ringside, Greening and Reese may as well spoken in Latin, because each of them used jargon and numbers as armor, telling the layperson nothing about the Bayou. I think Greening said that the Bayou had some stuff in it that wasn’t that bad, and that Reese responded with, yes, it IS that bad, but I’m only guessing.
I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of people throwing around big words and making accusations. I feel like those are bully tactics and I don’t see where it helps the Bayou or educates anyone. We have all these groups making all this noise about the last remaining estuary on Boca Ciega Bay, but nobody’s doing anything. The only people seem motivated to act are the folks at Keep Pinellas Beautiful, who stage cleanups, and Kurt Zuelsdorf, who runs a state-funded program to trade kayak rentals trash collected in Clam Bayou. Everyone else uses words and threats and Gulfport bows to both without ever taking action.
Who is right? Who can tell? None of these people spend a lot of time on the Bayou. They look at it from their dock or the shore, or maybe wade out in the water for a sample. They spend more time at meetings spitting out bitter vituperative or covering their collective bureaucratic butt with scientific jargon about why or why not, or how much and where. Meanwhile, trash remains
stuck in mangrove roots and golf balls still clutter the trees and nobody does anything. If I lived on the Bayou I’d be mad as hell at the amount of energy the state, city and private citizens spend arguing and defending and accusing and avoiding rather than doing.
Clam Bayou isn’t dying, but it sure has seen better days. Life exists along its shores and in its waters. I’ve seen baby green heron chicks climbing around the mangroves in the Bayou. I’ve watched tarpon splash and gators skulk. I’ve taken pictures of two nesting pairs of osprey. I’ve caught fish off the park docks. You can, in some of the deeper channels, see manatee. From the bay you’ll see dolphin chase fish into the Bayou.
I’ve seen, too, shopping carts and paper cups and golf balls and toilet seats trapped in the mangroves. Life exists, yes, but in some perverse ghetto that juxtaposes beauty with garbage.
Unfortunately the litter doesn’t matter as much as the sand, or mud or sediment — call it what you will. That area, on charts, is historically a mud flat with low water, but some say that is evidence of it filling in. You will see the same thing at the East Beach at Fort DeSoto, the Mangrove Trail at John Pennekamp State Park, and a host of other places in Florida (although those places have less litter.) It shouldn’t be any deeper than it is; that isn’t my opinion, it’s based on historical records of an area and the definition of this sort of estuary. Also, consider this: despite what you can see from the shore at low tide, not all of the Bayou is six inches deep (and, just to be clear, the average depth of all Boca Ciega Bay is barely eight feet and there are a lot of spots outside Clam Bayou that barely hit that six inch mark at low tide.)
But is that mud toxic? That depends on whose numbers you believe. SWFWMD, a largely unaccountable agency (sorry, guys, but your entire board is appointed, not elected) says not really. The Davis family suggests it may cause cancer to live on the Bayou.
After Ms. Greening’s presentation Tuesday evening, the mayor opened the public session. Mr. Reese spoke about Clam Bayou and did not stop after his allotted three minutes, despite the buzzer that signaled him to do just that. The Mayor did not stop him at that point, which he does with everyone else who speaks. When he stopped him a little bit later, he granted Mr. Reese’s request to make a presentation to council at a later date, despite the city’s legal counsel and the city manager denying that request previously.
Communication has broken down and folks, this isn’t simply a failure to communicate. We have the makings of a Carl Hiaasen novel and I’m just waiting for Skink to step up to the plate.
I wish that the all the interested parties hadn’t lost the ability to compromise or even have a civil discussion about the Bayou. We’ve got scientists and attorneys who seem incapable of speaking to laypeople, a practice I suspect designed to intimidate. We’ve got citizens so embittered about councilwoman Michele King and anyone else who dares disagree with them that they won’t listen to anything that contradicts what they choose to believe. We’ve got a city staff that gets threatened with lawsuits for inviting the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to speak about Clam Bayou, and we’ve got a mayor who lacks the desire to demand respect from the people addressing council or to stand up to people who disregard the rules. The city is in a race to avoid litigation and minimize conflict and, as a result, it’s allowing a small group to set the rules. The idea of what is right or what it should do doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
I fail to see how this will help Clam Bayou and find myself sorely disappointed with the mayor, and I wish, more than anything he and the rest of the city would grow a backbone, put a stop to all the words without action, and do something measurable to help Clam Bayou.
How? Simple. One: Pay for regular water and sediment quality tests at several different points in the Bayou. Two: Sue the city of St. Petersburg to install physical devices that will help collect litter and also to treat or divert their runoff. Three: Hire an independent scientist to establish a standard for air, water, and sediment quality in Clam Bayou and create a plan of action. Five: Stop being bullied into anything less than sound science, and insist on a layperson translation of any reports or facts generated about the Bayou.
The city, of course, doesn’t need to do what I say. But I really wish they would do something, because I don’t see where the accusations, lawsuits, and cowtowing to avoid getting sued is helping anyone. “To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said.
Does Gulfport have the courage to act?