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The battle for Clam Bayou

Alfred and Cynthia Davis have long contended that the city of St. Petersburg and the Southwest Florida Water Management District have not done enough to protect and restore Clam Bayou.

The Gulfport residents say they will file a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, the water management district and the city alleging they have violated the Clean Water Act.

In a letter from the Davis' attorney, Thomas W. Reese, dated Oct. 7 and addressed to EPA, Swiftmud and the city of St. Petersburg, they make several claims. Among them: that EPA and Florida have failed to establish ambient water quality for all 309 Outstanding Florida Waters statewide, including local bodies like Clam Bayou and the Little Manatee River.

Outstanding Florida Waters are waterways designated by the state to need higher levels of protection. The complaint says that the state must return the water quality to the level it was in 1978 to comply with state rules that implemented the Clean Water Act.

Clam Bayou is nestled between Gulfport and St. Petersburg along Boca Ciega Bay and suffers from an accumulation of trash and sediments that are swept in by an antiquated stormwater drainage system. Part of the estuary sits in St. Petersburg, but the bulk of the bayou, about 10 acres, lies in Gulfport.

Among the claims in the letter is that the water management district, commonly known as Swiftmud, and the city have contributed to stormwater discharge that has polluted Clam Bayou. Some areas of the bayou that used to be deep and boat-accessible are now shallow, they say.

"We have used every organ of the bureaucratic process from local to federal level without satisfaction," said Alfred Davis, 65, who is retired and a former marine surveyor.

Reese said he hopes to file suit before Christmas. Separately, he also petitioned the state Department of Environmental Protection for a hearing to challenge Swiftmud's permit to implement the final phase of a restoration project that Reese said has done little to help the bayou.

The DEP dismissed the petition on Thursday, but Reese said he intended to resubmit a petition.

"They're taking out virtually nothing," said Reese. "They need to really restore the bayou and take the sediment out," he said.

The agencies named in the letter were hesitant to respond to the allegations Friday, noting that the lawsuit was yet to be filed.

"We haven't received a copy of a lawsuit from Alfred and Cindy Davis, but we will certainly review it if they choose to file suit," said Robyn Felix, a spokeswoman for Swiftmud.

"The district believes that the Clam Bayou Stormwater Treatment and Habitat Restoration Project is a good project that will restore much of Clam Bayou's ecosystem and improve water quality. This project has been in our budget and approved for some time. We intend to move forward with it," Felix said.

"We're referring everything to Swiftmud. We're really following their lead," said Mark Winn, assistant to the St. Petersburg city attorney.

"We have been acquiring property to do stormwater improvement out there for years," Winn added.

The Environmental Protection Agency struck a similar tone.

"It would be premature for EPA to comment on a yet-to-be-filed lawsuit at this time," Dawn Harris-Young, a spokeswoman for the agency, said.

Austin Bogues can be reached at abogues@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8872.

The battle for Clam Bayou 12/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 2:29pm]
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