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Longboat Key Sunday, Jul. 25, 2021 6 months ago

Longboat Key residents cope with red tide effects

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While the dead fish accumulation has subsided, residents hope red tide conditions aren't as severe as 2018.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Chris Sachs was pleased the red tide conditions had somewhat subsided by the time he returned to his Country Club Shores home after being out of town.

“We got back to a relatively clear canal,” Sachs said. “There was still a little bit of foul aroma in the air, but the gist of it had happened prior to that. In fact, one of our neighbors had taken pictures of the canal and there were quite a few dead fish.”

A picture taken on July 15 of the canal between Yardarm Lane and Bowsprit Lane showed an accumulation of dead fish. While Sachs said the canal was mostly clear on July 17, it appears some of the dead fish returned on July 26.

On July 15, dead fish accumulated in the canal between Yardarm Lane and Bowsprit Lane. Photo provided by Chris Sachs.

“We were actually happy to miss that little state of conditions, and my neighbors told me that it wasn’t pleasant,” Sachs said. “So, (I’m) happy to have missed it.”

Country Club Shores Unit IV Association President Lynn Larson said she became concerned about the dead fish accumulation and foul odor. The conditions have fluctuated in the past few days.

“It never got to the stage where it has been in our worst years, but my concern was I didn’t want to wait until it got to that point,” Larson said. “And, I had many residents of the association calling me and complaining, especially the ends of the canal. The rest of it wasn’t too bad, but the ends of the canal (are) where they collect.” 

The town encourages residents to use floating barriers like a purpose-built floating boom or an improvised string of pool noodles across a canal’s opening to prevent dead fish from entering the canals.

“In some canals, they got together and put up a commercial boom at the end of the canal to stop debris from floating in,” Country Club Shores resident Doreen Dupont said. “Whereas where I live, they’re more concerned about the few people who boat. They’re concerned that it might not be that easy to attach and detach the boom when they go out.”

The town determines whether to clear the dead fish from canals or the beach using daily assessments based on concentrations, weather and tidal conditions. Accumulations must be heavy enough and remain in place for three to four tidal cycles before crews will be dispatched.

“We do have a canal cleanup program, once it gets to a certain level of accumulation, but it is a very intensive operation. It’s very hands-on,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “We have to take our Public Works crew off their current assignments, put them out in our Public Works boat and it’s really handwork with nets. And again, (it is) very labor-intensive and time-consuming.”

Harmer said the town’s canal cleanup is unique to Longboat Key.

“We’ve said this before, we’re not aware of any other local government in our two-county area that actually does canal cleanup,” Harmer said. “Most of the focus is on beaches.”

The town can hire a contractor to help with cleanup if the town’s Public Works staff deems it necessary.

“We have a contingency in our budget for red tide each year,” Harmer said. “There’s $50,000 in the budget this year to offset the cost of red tide.”

Any unused funds go back into the general fund and help offset the cost for the next fiscal year. The town replenishes the $50,000 each fiscal year.

On July 16, the town cleaned up one of the canals in the Country Club Shores neighborhood with a moderate accumulation of dead fish.

“When we do the work ourselves, there’s still some expense,” Harmer said. “There’s probably some overtime expense for our personnel whether that’s taking the dead fish to the landfill or working extra hours that we would bill to that contingency.”

When asked about the possibility of state reimbursement, Harmer said the town would continue to monitor discussions that Tampa Bay area leaders are having with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. A declared state of emergency would trigger a different type of reimbursement, according to Harmer.

“The town has always been wonderfully responsive to inquiries and questions, and that’s the best part,” Sachs said. “And, they’ve even had people come out and they do an assessment, which I think is fair and certainly responsible, especially with limited resources.”

While conditions have improved, Larson said she disagreed with the town’s initial assessment that there was only “minor" accumulation in the Country Club Shores neighborhood canals.

“When they said, ‘Oh, it’s minor,’ and when he says, ‘minor and neighboring communities don’t do this,’ I mean it’s like, don’t tell me what time it is in China,” Larson said. “I don’t live in China, and I don’t live in North Port and I don’t live in St. Pete.”

Larson said the conditions caused her dog to start coughing while they took a walk through the neighborhood.

“That’s why I say, ‘it’s only minor if it’s not in your backyard,’ I mean really because that wasn’t minor,” Larson said.

It’s anyone’s guess on how long the town will feel the effects of red tide. The town has an ordinance banning the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30.

“It just depends on how severe the event becomes,” Harmer said. “Right now, we’re able to manage it within our contingency account and our current employees, but we just don’t know.

“Is this another couple of weeks or is this a couple of months? And is it going to stay the same or is it going to get worse? We just don’t know.”

 

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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