Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Common sense could have spared Pinellas palms

You might want to think of this as the Pinellas County Public Works Department version of that WKRP in Cincinnati episode where for Thanksgiving, the hapless radio station general manager dropped live turkeys out of a helicopter over a packed shopping mall, wrongly believing the birds could fly.

In what should have been a routine maintenance assignment in March, workers were supposed to remove four sabal palmetto trees along Joe's Creek, which runs through several St. Petersburg neighborhoods and Kenneth City. Seems simple enough.

Yet by the time the employees finished the job, another 74 sabal palmetto trees had been poisoned to death. The warning label for the herbicide used to kill the trees, Garlon 4, specifically recommends against spraying it near water since it can be fatal to fish populations and can endanger groundwater and permeable soil.

Other than that, it's great stuff, especially on the rocks.

According to Pinellas officials, the workers who executed the trees made a "judgment call" in the field to take out the additional 74 sabal palmettos. It never dawned on them to ask for a second opinion from the higher-ups whether to extend the death warrants?

It's not as if those 74 extra trees on the hit list were an escape risk. Or consider that Joe's Creek is a 9,256-acre drainage basin that flows east to west through sections of St. Petersburg and Kenneth City before discharging into Cross Bayou. This isn't as if the county workers accidentally spilled some toxic stuff into a puddle on the side of the road.

Exercising some initiative is certainly an admirable trait. But when it comes to spraying toxic chemicals near water and risking fish kills and pollution of the surrounding area, exercising some common sense would also seem to be useful skill.

The massacre of Joe's Creek is now being investigated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for potential environmental violations.

Given Pinellas County is a peninsula, one would think the county would follow the most stringent set of guidelines governing the application of toxic materials to deal with issues such as removing trees. But it doesn't.

As Tampa Bay Times reporter Mark Puente noted, Hillsborough County, Tampa and St. Petersburg all have more demanding policies governing the removal of trees than Pinellas County, requiring the issuance of permits to both government workers, as well as homeowners, contractors and developers to undergo a review process before beginning work.

Pinellas County self-permits maintenance projects, which may seem like a good idea until it isn't.

And that's troubling. You have to suspect this wasn't the first time county workers had so cavalierly applied nasty chemicals such as Garlon 4 to the Joe's Creek sabal palmettos. It was only the first time the practice was exposed.

How many other tracts of vegetation near bodies of water have been cleared by using Garlon 4, or some other potentially dangerous chemical, based on a 'judgment call" by county workers? And for how long has this practice been in place? Given the lax permitting process and little management oversight, we may never know for sure.

Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard said there needs to be better training and guidance for workers so that the Joe's Creek situation doesn't happen again. Good idea.

And can we begin the process of advising public works employees that while judgment calls have their place, before a worker decides to pollute a 9,256-acre watershed, it might be a swell idea to call the front office first.

Comments
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

After an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sy...
Published: 09/12/18
Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

If the swift departure of CBS Chairman Les Moonves has a bright side, it’s that a major television network took accusations of sexual harassment against its chief executive seriously enough to hold him accountable and obtain his resignation even at t...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Florida Supreme Court wisely kills misleading charter school amendment

Editorial: Florida Supreme Court wisely kills misleading charter school amendment

Voters should know what they’re voting on, which is why the Florida Supreme Court was entirely correct to strike the deviously worded Amendment 8 from the Nov. 6 ballot. The amendment would have significantly expanded charter schools in Florida by le...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/11/18
Editorial: Genshaft steered USF to new heights — and it should keep climbing

Editorial: Genshaft steered USF to new heights — and it should keep climbing

University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, who announced Monday she will retire in July, will leave behind a remarkable legacy. The university’s longest-serving president led USF’s transformation from a commuter school to a destination univ...
Published: 09/10/18