Mayor’s Corner: Storms and Atrocities

It’s been a rough month for Gulfport and Florida. On the tail of Tropical Storm Colin, we had to bear witness to the horror of the Orlando slayings. My public statement on the terrorist attack in Orlando was as follows, and I hope that this message is taken to heart: “With regards to the heinous mass shooting in Orlando on June 12, the City of Gulfport Florida offers its deepest condolences and moral support to the victims and the victims’ families and friends. This despicable act of terrorism was not an attack against the LGBT community alone, but against our society as a whole. We are saddened and outraged. Such hateful violence not only destroys lives, but incites fear, fuels mistrust and separatist attitudes, and damages relations with our domestic Islamic community and hinders their move toward peaceful integration into American culture. We must collectively resist the urge to answer hate with hate, and work instead to act in the spirit of acceptance, compassion and healing.”

As for the storm impacts, by now you likely know that we had a significant amount of rainfall (approximately 10”) over a 48 hour period from June 6th – 7th. This resulted in sewage overflows in several parts of the Tampa Bay area, including Gulfport and St. Petersburg. While we had no direct and intentional discharges to our public waters here in Gulfport, there is no question that much of this diluted material reached Boca Ciega Bay and Clam Bayou via runoff over land from both cities. Gulfport, per our agreement with St. Petersburg, posted marine advisories publicly, began sampling for harmful bacteria, notified our neighboring municipality and reported a total overflow of 282,000 gallons. In spite of the poor handling of the media inquiry on behalf of St. Petersburg, their city officials actually conformed to the terms of our recent agreement as well. While these overflows are indeed unfortunate and unhealthy for people and the environment, this event was minor in comparison to the event last August. It could have been much worse had we not taken the steps that we have over the last 18 months. Water quality in the wake of the storm has been rebounding rapidly, and we are working with the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection on an ongoing basis to make further improvements. Though Gulfport has committed $5,000,000 in additional funding to remedy our aging sewer infrastructure, that work is still in progress and will be for some time. This is a problem that we inherited, and we are addressing it. While we can mitigate storm impacts, we can never guarantee that Mother Nature won’t overpower our technology. We can however control how we manage these emergencies within the realm of our capabilities, and your city did just that – No direct discharges to water, prompt notification, and prompt reporting and emergency management. Our Public Works and Emergency Services performed admirably in limiting the damage.

Our community is vulnerable to intense tropical systems. It is a coastal hazard that we cannot avoid or fully overcome, and it is a risk we must live with if we choose to be here. If every city in Pinellas County had brand new wastewater systems operational today, with double our current capacity, we could not promise that some future hurricane would not overwhelm such a system. It would be foolish to do so. What we can promise is that we will handle each storm better than the last. We strive to improve our preparedness constantly, and to defend ourselves to the greatest extent possible from these threats. I applaud our City Council for their commitment to funding these improvements, and our City Staff for putting the pieces in place and making it happen.

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