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Clam Bayou's latest unwelcome addition is rain-eroded fill dirt

Rep. Rick Kriseman has proposed all interested parties meet.

By NICKJOHNSONN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007


GULFPORT- The Clam Bayou Nature Preserve has become a sensitive subject for many Gulfport residents.

The bayou, which is nestled between the town, Twin Brooks golf course and a St. Petersburg neighborhood, has long been subject to trash and sediment that flow from stormwater pipes.

Most of the trash that ends up tangled in the mangroves washes in from a watershed area in the bordering St. Petersburg neighborhood.

That has led to scrutiny by Gulfport residents whenever St. Petersburg does something to potentially impact the bayou, including recent efforts to curb erosion at Twin Brooks golf course.

Several weeks ago the city dumped concrete tiles and soil along the bank of a channel that borders the golf course.

Superintendent Richard Tuten said it was an attempt to replace the soil that had been eroding into the ditch for years.

"When you get a strong rain or storm it really rips through there," he said.

But that's what has many Gulfport residents worried.

What seems trivial to many, dumping some soil to replace an embankment, means more potential harm to a beloved bayou for others.

"I've been there several times and it looks like that bank is washing into Clam Bayou," Lloyd Mason of Gulfport said.

Mason took photos of the bank on several dates to document the potential problem.

Gulfport council member Bob Worthington also took photos, three times over the course of a week, after receiving calls from concerned residents.

Kurt Zuelsdorf, who makes his living running kayak tours in Clam Bayou, went to the banks during an early morning rainstorm intent on capturing the erosion on video.

"One tropical storm and all that dirt is going to come down and wash back into the bayou," he said.

Al Davis the president of Gulfport Water Watch, a group devoted to preserving Gulfport's marine habitat, received a handful of calls about the embankment from other group members. He's been out of town since the soil was dumped, but wasn't surprised by the news.

"It's part of the continuing challenge of more stuff that doesn't need to be there getting into Clam Bayou," Davis said.

He points to the preserve as an example of local governments' commitment, or lack thereof, to maintaining water resources. The group of Gulfport residents who responded with their cameras were trying to document just that.

They say that while the problem with floating trash is obvious, sediments that make it into the bayou settle just out of view, making the problem easy to overlook.

"What their concerns may be about is exactly what we're trying to address with this bank stabilizing effort," said Mike Connors, the St. Petersburg administrator who handles environmental issues.

Connors explained that the project was the city's attempt to keep any more sediment from ending up in the channel.

Although there are still conflicting ideas about how to handle the problems in Clam Bayou, many steps have already been taken.

St. Petersburg is working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District on a multimillion dollar project to restore habitats in the bayou and has been removing floating trash after rainstorms.

Volunteer cleanups organized by Zuelsdorf and several local non-profits have also made a progress removing some of the decades worth of debris.

Worthington, who grew up in Gulfport, said he remembers fishing, scalloping and gathering clams and oysters in the bayou.

Although he wouldn't do that today, he thinks things are moving in the right direction. "I think we're working towards it; things are very positive now," he said.

Worthington said he was looking forward to a Clam Bayou meeting, proposed by Rep. Rick Kriseman to include all the stakeholders in the preserve.

"He's going to really do something that nobody's ever done before and that's get everybody together," Worthington said.

Nick Johnson can be reached at or 893-8361.

[Last modified November 3, 2007, 21:53:35]

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