Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

New underwater feature in Lens plan still has skeptics

ST. PETERSBURG — Designers of the Lens, the proposed replacement for the Pier, haven't given up on an underwater feature.

Originally, they proposed a pristine underwater garden in the waters of Tampa Bay. That is, until marine scientists ridiculed the plan.

Now a new idea has emerged. Offered now is a feature with limestone rock structures atop the old Pier's cut-off pilings, meant to be a habitat for marine creatures. Acknowledging that water clarity will limit views of the action below, designers have introduced underwater cameras, hydrophones and other technological devices. Closer to shore, the effort that's being touted as an estuary restoration project, education outpost and tourist attraction will include planting sea grasses.

The project will cost $1.5 million, with a hoped-for federal grant pitching in $950,000. The rest will come from the $50 million Lens budget.

Like the old, the new plan has its share of skeptics.

"I support education and information about the bay. It's kind of apple pie and mom, but my suspicions are that it probably doesn't have much value to improving the ecology of Tampa Bay," said Walter Jaap, a retired Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scientist, now a consultant and honorary professor at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

Environmental activist Lorraine Margeson, a vocal opponent of the Lens, is "ragingly against this restoration plan."

"It is a ludicrous idea to create or suggest creating a habitat restoration area, where at the same time, recreational fishing and motorboating are part of the plan," she said.

Mike Connors, St. Petersburg's public works administrator, disagrees. Boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers coexist in the Florida Keys and boats anchor "in and on top of reefs," he said. "We are not proposing that. We have a marina area that is separate and distinct."

It would be unfortunate, he added, if opponents derailed the city's hopes for federal funding.

And while the city's grant application says goals for the underwater feature were developed "following an initial outreach effort to local marine science experts" from institutions including USF's College of Marine Science, associate dean Gary Mitchum downplayed the university's collaboration.

"We weren't involved in the proposal in any formal way," he said. "The college was never asked to review this. We have the expertise and generally we are happy to help with this sort of thing."

Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch, whose mission is to protect and restore marine and wetlands environments, said his group helped write the application for the grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We know that if you build these types of structures at the right elevations in the bay that you can grow things like oysters, soft corals, barnacles and other attaching organisms," he said.

"This is not hard coral reef that you would expect in the Caribbean or the Florida Keys, but these are the types of hard bottom and reef communities that are native to Tampa Bay that can be constructed as a showcase."

The grant application proposes building reefs with "natural limestone rubble" from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Tampa port expansion project.

Jaap scoffs at the premise. "Most of the rock in the bay that we have encountered is very soft stuff," he said.

The grant also states that the Lens will reduce shading of the bay bottom by "approximately 60 percent," advantageous to sea grass, which needs light.

Margaret "Penny" Hall, the top sea grass expert at the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, addressed the plan for sea grass restoration.

"There are currently bands of sea grasses, approximately 30 meters wide, growing close to the shoreline both north and south of the pier approach," she said in an email.

While removing the current Pier approach will allow more light, the sea grass area would be increased only by about one-third of an acre, she said. "This is not a large amount of additional sea grass habitat, but of course, better than nothing."

Clark said underwater lighting, projected to cost $80,000, would attract fish.

"It's more of a tourist-aesthetic thing versus something that's helping the habitat be more productive," Jaap said.

He's similarly unimpressed with the plan for cameras, hydrophones and other technology, saying they would require too much maintenance.

"I think TV cameras under the water have got limited value,'' he said. "You're not going to see much. When the water is very murky, you won't see anything."

The underwater feature will be educational, Clark said.

"Tampa Bay has a great story to tell,'' he said. "It's one of the ways we can showcase restoration to a wide audience, to the visitors and community."

Jaap is not optimistic about the grant.

"This is primarily a tourist attraction," he said. "It just seems to me that the grant agencies are going to review this with a critical eye to make sure it's the best way to spend these resources."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

Comments
The Bucsí problem isnít how they finish; itís how they start

The Bucsí problem isnít how they finish; itís how they start

For the second straight week, the Buccaneers had the ball in the final minutes of a tie game.For the second straight week, they could not finish.As disappointing as that might be, they have a larger problem, and one that has existed all season: The B...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Former Tampa police sergeant to be sentenced in tax fraud case

Former Tampa police sergeant to be sentenced in tax fraud case

TAMPA ó LaJoyce Houston admits that she benefitted from the proceeds of tax refund fraud.But the former Tampa police sergeant denies that she was ever an active participant in a fraud scheme, according to a memo filed in her federal criminal case. An...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Illegal card skimmer discoveries in Tampa Bay double in 2017

Illegal card skimmer discoveries in Tampa Bay double in 2017

State investigators have discovered more than double the number of credit card skimmers in the Tampa Bay area in 2017 than in 2016 ó with still a few weeks left in the year. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found 54 skimmer...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Updated: 16 minutes ago

Tampa forum focuses on reforming Floridaís juvenile justice system

TAMPA ó Changing the way Florida treats juvenile offenders was the focus of Monday nightís forum on criminal justice reform."We send more children to adult prison than any other state," said Raymer Maguire IV, manager of the ACLUís Florida Campaign f...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

Three Tampa Bay malls may soon be under new management. French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco has agreed to buy Australia-based shopping mall operator Westfield Corp. for $15.7 billion in cash and shares."Westfield would arguably be the best or ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas construction board prepares to lose independence

Pinellas construction board prepares to lose independence

LARGO ĖĖ Members of the Pinellas County agency that oversees contractor licensing cried foul in January when elected officials sought to fold the board into county government.They were mostly quiet this week as they received word on plans to make tha...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Prosecutors likely to decide by Jan. 25 on death penalty in Seminole Heights murders

Prosecutors likely to decide by Jan. 25 on death penalty in Seminole Heights murders

TAMPA ó Prosecutors will likely know before the end of January whether they will seek the death penalty for the man accused in the four Seminole Heights murders.A judge set the next court appearance for Howell Emanuel Donaldson III for Jan. 25 and as...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Police searching for robber who hit three North Tampa hotels

TAMPA ó Police believe the same armed man committed early morning robberies at three North Tampa hotels within half a mile of one another, the latest just before 4 a.m. Tuesday.In the latest heist, the robber pointed a gun at a clerk in the West Wing...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bayís mortgage delinquency rate crept up in September

Tampa Bayís mortgage delinquency rate crept up in September

Times Staff WriterThe percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners who are late on their mortgage payments rose slightly in September, probably due to Hurricane Irma. According to CoreLogic, 7 percent of bay area mortgages were delinquent by at least 30 days c...
Updated: 1 hour ago