Dusty May urged Port St. Joe commissioners Tuesday night to support a grassroots effort to address problems with “bay bottom destruction” that plague St. Joseph Bay.
That would be one aspect of a multi-pronged approach, May said, to “save the bay” before somebody else takes action.
Specifically, May mentioned the Pew Charitable Trusts and its far-reaching program addressing environmental issues around the globe.
While emphasizing he has no indication St. Joseph Bay is on the non-profit’s radar, he noted the organization’s reach, resources and advocacy and said the organization was currently involved in an effort to shut down a bay in the Florida Keys.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ role in studying the Gulf of Mexico has been a significant factor, many regional fishing organizations contend, in significant restrictions on season-length and catch-size for fishing in the gulf.
“If we don’t do something somebody else will,” May said. “They do their homework and that bay could be shut down or taken from us.”
The primary issue May addressed was the “trenches” and other evidence of deep scarring by boats in the bay bottom.
The bottom, St. Joseph Bay, is home to some of the finest seagrass beds in the state, and is one of the few remaining bay scallop harvesting areas in the state that remain open.
But the lushness of the grass beds is under threat in this region due to a mysterious wasting disease and, more pressingly, scarring by boats.
One issue is proper and complete delineation of the beds, May said at one point, work he would gladly volunteer to spearhead and organize.
In the immediate, May said, he would like the blessing of commissioners to contact officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to begin the enforcement of rules and regulations about bay bottom destruction.
May said what was needed was a “carrot—stick” approach.
Enforcement, he said, with a dollar fine but also a gentle suggestion to an offending boater that to preserve the good vibes of their vacation there are rules about destroying the bottom of the bay.
“Don’t get fined and ruin your vacation,” May said.
Or, as May put it, “if you look back behind your boat and you see mud and grass you are breaking the law.”
Education was also needed, May said.
Through signage informing the public of the value of the seagrass and how best to protect the beds and providing information at boat ramps, the state park and other launch points, the effort would be to educate boaters before they get on the water, May said.
He said any costs associated with such a program could be borne with BP fine money, adding that using that fine money fits with the efforts BP is professing to support for improving the regional environment.
May said he would also like the city’s blessing to explore potential grant funding to improve the damming system out of Buck Griffin Lake to the bay to improve the filtering of stormwater runoff before it hits the bay.
The current dam has been effective, May said, but only addresses the stormwater in one direction. An additional dam would double the efficacy of the system.
“This is something that is important for saving what we have,” May said. “Without running people off we need to get control of our bay and protect what we have.”
Commissioner gave unanimous support and May will coordinate with city staff and commissioners as needed.
Good news on two fronts in the ongoing water saga.
The “substantially complete” date for the replacement of water distribution pipes along areas of the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe is June 16, said Clay Smallwood with Preble Rish Engineers.
That would complete the initial phase of replacement in the area and commissioners held the first public hearing Tuesday for a Community Development Block Grant which is being considered as a potential funding source to complete pipe work on the north side of town.
At the water plant, preparations begin today on a pilot study examining the pretreatment of water with lime. The study should begin in two weeks, plant supervisor Larry McLamma said.
The hope is that the lime pretreatment will significantly reduce levels of manganese – which causes water to look black or the color of ice tea – in the water.
The addition of lime, the belief is, will also help reduce chemical costs by cutting the amount of other chemicals used in the treatment protocol.
“I’m excited about the process,” said Commissioner Rex Buzzett.
Gulf Pines Hospital
City and county staff will begin discussing how to resolve or abate outstanding property tax bills on the old Gulf Pines Hospital site in an effort to allow the city, which owns the land, to resolve federal tax liens with the Internal Revenue Service.
The long-term goal is to resolve the liens, tear down the hospital while abating asbestos and platting the land for a six-parcel single-family subdivision on the tax rolls for both city and county.