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Delays on cleaning up Clam Bayou prompt appeal to state

GULFPORT — Clam Bayou and the Southwest Florida Water Management District's plan to restore it are once again becoming a hot topic for city residents and politicians.

Mayor Michael Yakes, council member Robert Worthington and Al and Cindy Davis of the Gulfport Water Watch group have made recent trips to Tallahassee hoping that the bayou's plight will gain the attention of the Legislature.

Their message — Swiftmud's restoration project is taking too long and won't adequately address the filling in of the bayou. But differences of scientific opinion and a stymied land acquisition could continue to pose problems for the various parties involved.

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.

Swiftmud is currently working on the final phase of the project that will help filter out garbage and sediments by running the stormwater through a series of ponds and restore more than 120 acres of wetlands.

Swiftmud officials hope to complete the permitting and design phase of the project by September with construction completed by the end of 2009, said Restoration Department Director Eric DeHaven.

But one of the major factors in the project's time line has been land acquisitions.

If the city of St. Petersburg is unable to purchase two outstanding properties, one of the main elements in the projects design, a drainage pond responsible for filtering runoff from 1,700 acres of surrounding neighborhood, will have to be drastically reduced in size.

"It's a pretty important piece for the project and I think the importance of the project has really come to light lately," said Jannie Hagburg, project engineer.

The city has entered into contract negotiations with the owner of one property but has had trouble contacting the owners of the second, said Bruce Grimes, director of real estate and property management.

The property was left to Charlene Martin and Robert Pheil.

Martin currently resides in Georgia and said that at age 84 she was too old to handle negotiations and that her brother may have been unimpressed by the city's offer. Pheil did not return calls for comment.

Swiftmud's plan has also come under fire because it doesn't address the sediment that has already flowed into the bayou.

A Gulfport native, Worthington said the current restoration plans would turn the bayou into nothing more than a mud flat, a message that he and other residents shared with Swiftmud's Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board during an April 2 town meeting.

"I think two-thirds of the issues are addressed already," the board's co-chair Todd Pressman said, but he made a motion to have a third party look into the issue of sediment removal.

"There are the scientific studies and then there's the real-world experience of what people see that have been out there for decades and there is a disparity between the two," Pressman said.

While Pressman's motion to hire a third party didn't carry, the board did make a motion asking the staff to revisit the issue of sediment removal.

"The second opinion is simply going to be asking the same guys a second time," Al Davis said.

The Gulfport Water Watch group, founded by Davis, has been a vocal proponent of dredging the accumulated sediments, an idea that Swiftmud's current plan dismisses.

"The filling in of an estuary with sediment is a natural process. In this case the process has just been sped up," said Brant Henningson, the chief environmental scientist for the restoration project.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Delays on cleaning up Clam Bayou prompt appeal to state 04/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 10:27am]
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