Despite the city of St. Petersburg’s recent pumping of over 15 million gallons of raw sewage into the bayou, a crowd of 35 people came out to the bi-annual cleanup of the nature preserve as part of the Great American Cleanup sponsored by Keep Pinellas Beautiful and the city of Gulfport.
“It’s getting better,” Griffin, who has been participating in cleanups for 15 years, said of the amount of trash in the bayou. “About 14 years ago we used to have two 12-yard dumpsters and could fill them within three hours.”
Griffin credits these volunteer cleanings for the improvements. A total of 278 pounds of trash were collected throughout the day.
Event organizers provided volunteers with rubber gloves, trash bags and sunscreen as well as trash-pickers. Doughnuts, coffee and water were also available to keep volunteers fueled during the event, which lasted from 9 a.m. to noon.
Volunteers and event coordinators may have been wary about working on Clam Bayou in the wake of the recent sewage contamination, but most recent water tests performed by the city of St. Petersburg have yielded improved results. Officials state that the water now meets clean beach requirements and is safe for swimming, according to Gulfport Public Works Director Don Sopak.
“In the past three or four days, we’ve been getting an all-clear from St. Petersburg,” Gulfport’s Technical Events Specialist Gail Biron said. “We’re still being cautious, but the testing reads safe levels.”
The recent contamination turned out to be of little concern to many participants. Griffin even brought a canoe to assist in reaching more remote areas of the bayou.
Participants and University of Tampa students Mitchell Hartwig and Chris Hartnett were excited to be in Clam Bayou for the first time.
“I’m the student coordinator of community engagement and we’re starting to plan more cleanup-based projects with the school and this was one of the locations we were looking to do it with Keep Pinellas Beautiful,” Hartnett said. “I’ve done a lot of research on it. We’re both marine biology majors. We’re kind of attracted to this stuff.”
While water quality in Clam Bayou is naturally improving, Gulfport Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman gave an update on the city’s continued efforts to make sure no sewage will ever be pumped there again.
“I met with the Department of Environmental Protection Regional Director Mary Yeargan on Thursday [October 15] with Don Sopak and [Gulfport City Manager] Jim O’Reilly,” Roman said at the cleanup. “We heard her take on things and updates and what information she has been collecting. We also shared with her our information … and she is putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Roman stated that there is no known time table for when water testing will cease, but said that Yeargan has a meeting scheduled with the city of St. Petersburg in the near future to learn more.
The bayou is important to residents of Gulfport, especially those who live near the waterway. Barbara Feeney, who calls the shores of the bayou home, says it’s a priority to keep the area trash-free.
“This is my backyard,” Feeney said as she dedicated herself and her outfit to the cause Saturday. Feeney emerged from the mangroves wet and muddy, but was proud she helped the cleanup effort.
“I remember years ago when developers thought to build condos here,” Feeney said. “But I’m glad it remained here for everyone to enjoy. Just watch out for the skeeters.”