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Clam Bayou suit takes aim at EPA, state DEP, Swiftmud, St. Petersburg

Alfred and Cindy Davis want the water monitored and sediment dredged to restore the estuary to the depth it was in 1978 — 3 to 5 feet.

Photo by PATTI EWALD

Alfred and Cindy Davis want the water monitored and sediment dredged to restore the estuary to the depth it was in 1978 — 3 to 5 feet.

GULFPORT

Alfred and Cindy Davis say they have a right to use, enjoy and navigate the Clam Bayou estuary they live on.

But, they say, neglect by the Environmental Protection Agency and clean-water violations by the city of St. Petersburg and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, are keeping them from doing so.

"Our principal concern, as one of a group of neighbors and friends concerned about Clam Bayou, is that we have seen a significant decline in the amount of sea life out there in the north basin. Mammals and dolphins were a common occurrence. They're gone. We have not seen any in the last four years," Al Davis said.

So the couple filed a federal lawsuit last month demanding water standards, monitoring equipment, and dredging and restoration of Clam Bayou.

The lawsuit contends that the EPA and Florida have failed to establish ambient water quality standards for all 309 Outstanding Florida Waters — waterways designated by the state to need higher protection. They include Clam Bayou and the Little Manatee River.

"Ambient water quality is telling you very little," said the Davises' attorney, Thomas W. Reese. Merely getting samples of water at random intervals and testing them does not gauge the contaminants that run into the bayou during a heavy rain.

It is the runoff from those heavy rains that is to blame for the contamination of Clam Bayou, said Reese, an environmental attorney.

"You want to see what's going on in a rain event. You need rain and flow gauges to determine how much rainwater is coming in," Reese said.

So, Reese said, the EPA needs to determine the ambient standard for Outstanding Florida Waters and then determine which of them fall below the standard or are degrading.

In the case of Clam Bayou, if data collected from stormwater discharge shows that the water quality has worsened, Reese said, "We have to dredge the bayou and make significant changes to the stormwater treatment systems."

That's where Swiftmud and the city of St. Petersburg enter the lawsuit. The suit contends that they are responsible for allowing all the contaminated freshwater runoff into the bayou.

While most of the bayou is in Gulfport, 99 percent of the runoff comes from St. Petersburg, Reese said.

The Davises want the city and Swiftmud to admit that their stormwater discharges have caused sediment to build up in Clam Bayou and to dredge it out, restoring the estuary to the depth it was in 1978, which was 3 to 5 feet.

Robyn Felix, Swiftmud media relations manager, said, "The district has conducted all of the necessary scientific studies and received the proper permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the Clam Bayou Stormwater Treatment and Habitat Restoration Project.

"We believe this a good project that will restore much of Clam Bayou's ecosystem and improve water quality. We are more than happy to work with all of the appropriate parties in order to reach a compromise on the issue of establishing standards for pollutant discharges into Clam Bayou. However, the district has conducted numerous scientific studies that show additional dredging is not warranted."

Jeanne Hoffmann, the assistant city attorney who is handling the case for St. Petersburg, said, "We're reviewing the complaint and trying to determine the appropriate response. We have until the middle of August."

The EPA declined to specifically comment.

"Because the case is still being litigated, there is not much I can say about the allegations," said Davina Marraccini, a spokeswoman for Region IV.

The perception that the Davises are doing all of this just so they can get their boat in and out of the bayou isn't true, Reese said.

"We know that the sediment from stormwater runoff in St. Petersburg has covered the bottom where there used to be an active recreational and commercial fishery," Davis said.

"We are concerned about our own health and, obviously, access. We have sat through the promises of agencies, and they have not followed through," Davis said.

2008 study shows bayou degraded over 7 years

In March, as attorney Thomas Reese was in the midst of preparing a federal lawsuit to get Clam Bayou cleaned up, the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County coincidentally released its 2008 study of the conditions at the bottom of Clam Bayou. Samples of the silt and clay as well as macrofauna were taken from 10 sites three times in August and September. High levels of sediment contaminants from surface runoff were found, said Dave Karlen, general manager of the EPC sediment monitoring program. "There were higher levels of breakdown products from fossil fuels," Karlen said. Reese said the results from the study show that the bayou has degraded in seven years since a similar study was done by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. "The overall average was over 25 percent, which is a violation of the water quality standard for benthic and estuarine health," he said.

Clam Bayou time line

1908: Dredging raises the land between 30th Avenue S and Boca Ciega Bay.

1946: Bayou is dredged for building space and channel.

1961: Developer dredges bay.

1972: Clean Water Act passes.

1987: Florida creates Surface Water Improvement and Management Program.

1989: Swiftmud, Gulfport and St. Petersburg unite to restore the bayou.

1995: Government agencies initiate restoration.

1995: Swiftmud buys bayou acreage.

2000: St. Petersburg mayor authorized to apply for grant money.

2000: Clam Bayou restoration gets $1 million.

2000: St. Petersburg City Council authorizes $2.3 million in property preservation.

2001: Part of 34th Avenue S is vacated.

2001: Phase II of restoration is completed.

2007: Gulfport resolution for Clam Bayou is sent to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

2007: Nonprofit cleanup organizations receive support.

2008: Gulfport votes to dredge.

2008: Pinellas-Anclote Basin Board votes to spend $500,000 on restoration.

2008: Phase III under way, expected to be finished by end of 2009.

Clam Bayou suit takes aim at EPA, state DEP, Swiftmud, St. Petersburg 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 4:30am]
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