Biologists, environmental engineers and water quality experts drilled into the Tampa Bay Rays' $450-million stadium plan on Thursday, raising a litany of questions about the effects of a downtown stadium on the St. Petersburg ecosystem.
At a meeting of the area Agency on Bay Management, an advisory arm of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, experts for the first time discussed publicly the environmental aspects of the Rays' ballpark proposal.
Questions covered all parts of the Rays' plan: water quality of Tampa Bay; the impact on birds and manatees; the health of seagrasses; the plan for handling stormwater runoff; and the Rays' aggressive timetable.
"What else am I missing?" quipped George Henderson, an ecologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation's Research Institute, after rattling off almost 20 potential issues.
Answers, however, were harder to identify.
The Rays' consultants, Tony Janicki of Janicki Environmental and John Ranon of HDR, said they are still in the early stages of analyzing the stadium's environmental impact and potential mitigation proposals.
They hope to have more answers by June. "We're just starting this," Janicki said. "We don't have a story yet."
Team officials say they must fill in a portion of the bay bottom near Demens Landing to accommodate a 34,000-seat Major League facility. Officials said originally they would need to fill in 0.6 acres of the bay, but consultants said Thursday it might be less.
The Rays also must find a way to deal with the stormwater runoff from the site.
Currently, Janicki said, the Rays have no stormwater plan for Al Lang Field. Consultants are considering a plan to build underground vaults to capture up to 300,000 gallons of rain water for a new stadium. The water could then be used to irrigate the playing field, Ranon said.
The team hopes to submit applications for regulatory approval in the summer, Ranon said, and team officials believe they can secure the necessary approvals before construction begins in 2009.
The team says the stadium would be among the most environmentally friendly in baseball and would reduce the team's carbon footprint by more than 70 percent. Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said the goal is to have a "net positive" effect on the local environment.
The bay management group made no recommendation Thursday on the Rays' proposal. The Suncoast Sierra Club and the St. Petersburg Audubon Society already have voiced opposition to the plan.
"I know there are a lot of opinions," Janicki said. "Let's wait" to see the data.