by Gulfport Councilmember Christine Brown
It has been a little over six months now since the environmental disaster in Gulfport’s Clam Bayou. The event is still on our minds and weighs heavy on our ecofriendly hearts. The Gabber has done their due diligence in reporting the facts that surrounded the event and I appreciate the great job they have done. Even still, I am continually contacted by residents who have been misled about the truth and the facts regarding the Clam Bayou sewage dump. Please allow me to restate the truth.
FACT: An extended period of heavy rains in late July and early August overtaxed the sewer system in St. Petersburg.
FACT: St. Petersburg discharged rain-diluted wastewater into Clam Bayou. They did this to protect the health of its citizens and to protect homes and public lands.
FACT: St. Petersburg was not alone; almost every local municipality, including Tampa, was forced to deal with overflows of wastewater because of the unprecedented rain event.
FACT: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) affirms that St. Petersburg acted legally. Gulfport could not have prevented this from happening nor could we stop it in the future. It is about protecting human lives.
FACT: Neither the City of Gulfport, the Gulfport City Council nor any one person on the council is responsible for what happened to Clam Bayou.
FACT: The Gulfport City Council is working with St. Petersburg by way of a Memorandum of Understanding to change the circumstances surrounding the notification process if this were to occur in the future.
FACT: A biggest factor leading to wastewater overflows during uncommonly heavy rain inundations is an aging sewer system. Most all cities, including Gulfport and St. Petersburg are faced with an outdated infrastructure. The best way to prevent this from happening again is by renovating the infrastructure.
FACT: I invited St. Petersburg City Councilmember Karl Nurse to our Tuesday February 16, 2016 council meeting. He communicated that St. Petersburg has drastically increased funding to their sewer system since the August tragedy. Mr. Nurse exhibited a great deal of integrity; he was apologetic and shared some of the actions that St. Petersburg is putting in place to fix the problem and confirmed that they have a deep commitment to upgrading their aging infrastructure.
FACT: The City of Gulfport at the direction of the Gulfport City Council has spent $1,500,000 in the past budget year on the aging infrastructure and are now in the process of pledging $3,500,000 more in the next budget year.
It is very frustrating that every time it rains we are forced to close our waters. We will continue to test the waters daily to protect our citizens for as long as necessary. I just returned from The Florida League of Cities Legislative Action Days in Tallahassee and while I was there I took the opportunity to visit the offices of over 40 of our legislators to advocate for Clam Bayou. A senate bill recently passed that outlines a funding source for an “out of the box” solution to environmentally challenged water bodies. I feel Clam Bayou fits that description and I am working to find a way to restore our estuary in peril.
You can always count on the Gulfport City Council for the truth, the facts and to advocate on your behalf. Please contact me, any city council member or City Manager James O’Reilly with any questions you may have. We are here for you and welcome the opportunity to serve you.