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Influential eyes take a look at bayou

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published February 4, 2007


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GULFPORT - In the two years since moving to her home along the narrow waterways of Clam Bayou Nature Park, Andrea Halko has grown accustomed to patches of trash washing onto her property.

Dolphins and manatees once frolicked in the morning sun, but now muddy clusters of broken lighters, plastic cups, hypodermic needles and unwrapped condoms litter the bayou's increasingly shallow waters, Halko said.

The issue has become the focus of debate on how much should be done to protect the mangrove-lined inlet nestled between St. Petersburg and Gulfport.

Gulfport officials, fed up with what they consider a lack of action from St. Petersburg and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, on Thursday brought in the big guns: officials from Sen. Bill Nelson's staff and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Gulfport officials say stormwater from St. Petersburg has pushed mounds of trash, dirt and road grease into the bayou, which has left layers of sediment along the bottom and reduced the depth of the inlet to less than 3 feet in most areas during high tide.

"I don't want to point fingers. We just want an answer: Is something going to get done or not?" said Gulfport Mayor Michael Yakes, who pointed out floating debris along the mangroves during a boat ride through the bayou.

Shahra Anderson, the senator's regional director, promised to look into federal solutions after the tour.

The bayou is home to hundreds of animals, including great blue herons, fiddler crabs, snowy egrets and oysters, and is one of the last naturally functioning estuaries of Boca Ciega Bay.

State and local officials, who were not invited to the event, said they have been working diligently to preserve the bayou for years.

The water management district hopes to double the number of stormwater filtering systems by late 2008, said Brandt Henningsen, a senior environmental scientist who has been working on the Clam Bayou project.

The filters will help keep trash out of Clam Bayou, Henningsen said.

St. Petersburg officials said they are doing the best they can with limited resources by occasionally cleaning up the bayou.

"We don't feel we are neglecting it," said parks director Clarence Scott, who argued that much of the trash in Clam Bayou does not come from St. Petersburg, but rather boaters in Boca Ciega Bay.

But Gulfport residents said that not enough has been done.

"There are a lot of people who think these things will work themselves out. We firmly believe that is not the case," said Al Davis, who lives along Clam Bayou. "This is our little Everglades. . . .We need to clean it up."

Davis and other residents have formed Citizens of Gulfport Water Watch, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that has demanded that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection fine St. Petersburg for allowing stormwater to pollute Clam Bayou.

"It is really an environmental hazard," said Halko. "It has been so low we haven't seen one dolphin this winter."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727-893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:45:10]


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