Focus Remains on Clam Bayou

Beach closures, debates, and house keeping – Gulfport City Council had it all in this week’s meeting, but the focus remained on the current situation of sewage in Clam Bayou and its resolutions.

Public comment saw more residents voicing their concern over Gulfport’s response to St. Petersburg dumping sewage into the waterways, the lack of clean up effort and the re-closing of the beach as of Tuesday morning.

“I’m very disappointed that nothing has been done with our current water situation,” Gulfport resident Pat Harbachuk said during the public forum. “I don’t know what else to say.”

City Manager Jim O’Reilly assured residents that there was no more sewage dumping occurring, explaining that Tuesday’s beach closure was due to the recent three inches of rain that pushed the remaining sewage in Clam Bayou towards the beach.

“What we are experiencing is the tidal flush is happening. The tide came in with the three inches of rain and moved the bacteria from Clam Bayou out into Boca Ciega Bay,” O’Reilly said. “We’re just being overly cautious. The levels are fairly close to where they would need to be to be open. We’re airing on the side of caution.”

O’Reilly’s full statement regarding the beach closure can be found on the city’s website, mygulfport.us.

The city manager addressed the public with issues regarding Clam Bayou and described the meeting involving himself, Public Works Director Don Sopak, and St. Petersburg water resource director Steve Leavitt last Thursday. The meeting consisted of a discussion to agree on a legally binding terms to prohibit St. Petersburg from dumping into Clam Bayou.

“They have agreed to provide a draft of an agreement that will formalize the material that were laid out in Mayor Kriseman’s letter that would be binding on both parties,” O’Reilly said. “They are drafting it and sending it to their legal people within the next 27 to 30 days to have a document for our council to look at, but their staff is prepared to put it in writing that the statements made by mayor Kriseman to be a formal document of protocols to be established within the city of Gulfport and the city of St. Petersburg.”

O’Reilly said the city will continue to monitor water samples from the beach and will reopen once it is safe to do so.

A healthy debate ensued on what the next step for clean up would be, though it was made clear that there is no effective way of cleaning up the water other than letting the tidal flush continue.

“My question now is what do we do with Clam Bayou,” Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman said.  “We’re sitting with a cesspool there. It’s time we figure something out. Let’s march on every state department there is.”

But money and outrage may not be enough for cleaning up the water.

“With the limited background I’ve got with environmental cleanup [the fact] is there’s not a readily available way to pump it,” Mayor Henderson said. “It sits at all levels of the water column and right now it is trapped in there and every time we get rain and high tide, it’s going to discharge a little bit more.”

Mayor Henderson also referred back to a previous article published by the Gabber quoting Dr. Mark Luthor, a professor at the University of South Florida, talking about the natural process of cleaning – it will take time and water. Luthor compared the sewage in the bayou with a tea bag being dipped into water.

“The problem is we’re talking about something that’s not easy to clean up. It’s not something that is sitting on the bottom or floating on top of the water,” Mayor Henderson said. “It’s a problem we’re going to solve collectively.”

The remainder of the meeting consisted of housekeeping that included:

– Passing an ordinance extending the city’s lease with the Gulfport Yacht Club.

– Authorizing the city manager to renew the city’s employee heath insurance coverage with Florida Blue.

– Authorizing the city manager to provide the city’s insurance coverage for employee life and accidental death insurance from Lincoln Financial.

– Authorizing the city manager to provide the city’s long-term disability insurance coverage from Lincoln Financial.

– Authorizing the city manager to renew the the city’s insurance coverage with Public Risk Management.

– Authorizing the city manager to enter into a three-year contract with the Pinellas County Professional Firefighter’s Local 4966 of the IAFF.

– Authorizing the city manager to enter into agreement with Pinellas Lodge 43 of the Fraternal Order of the Police.

– Authorizing the use of the Gulfport Casino ballroom by the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center for a bingo fundraiser.

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