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Opinion
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Guest Column
The governor should own the Tampa Bay fish kill | Column
We need a state government that will take responsibility and fix the problem.
City employees clean up the fish kill in Coffeepot Bayou on July 14 in St. Petersburg.
City employees clean up the fish kill in Coffeepot Bayou on July 14 in St. Petersburg. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 24

Why is Gov. Ron DeSantis not declaring a state of emergency to clean up the massive fish kills in Tampa Bay? It’s easy to shrug off the calls for help from local political leaders by calling them partisan or demeaning their multiple cries as just “bickering.” But that does nothing to actually fix the problem.

The governor claims there is already money to clean up Tampa Bay. Great, so where is it? How is the money being allocated? Is the money being used to monitor people’s health? Is the money being used to help rescue local businesses hurt by this calamity? Is the money being used to clean up the millions of pounds of dead wildlife or reduce the nitrogen and phosphorous polluting the bay?

Martha Collins
Martha Collins [ Provided ]

This spring, fearing a breach in a reservoir holding millions of gallons of wastewater at the site of an old fertilizer plant in Piney Point, state officials allowed hundreds of thousands of gallons of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution to be pumped into Tampa Bay. This pollution is almost certainly fueling massive Red Tide and fish kills. The governor and his state Department of Environmental Protection assured the residents of Tampa Bay that the environmental impacts would be minimal and that the state would “mitigate” them. Okay. Exactly how and when?

Is the governor worried that if he declares a state of emergency, he is ultimately admitting liability? This fish kill calls for a high level of accountability — or as the legal world calls it, culpability.

Florida law mandates in Section 252.36 that “The governor is responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and its people by emergencies. In the event of an emergency beyond local control, the governor…may assume direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions within this state….”

Personal responsibility is a core conservative value. It’s just like in the Navy (where DeSantis served as a Judge Advocate General): The captain of a ship is responsible for everything that happens on board, all the way down to the tiniest things in the bowels of the ship. If anything goes wrong, the Navy holds the captain responsible, and captains accept that as part of their duty. Same goes for being governor.

Yes, Red Tides do occur naturally, but who doubts that Piney Point morphed this natural occurrence into a full-blown crisis? Lawsuits have already been filed, and courts will determine liability. But right now, we need a state government that will take responsibility and fix the problem. Governor, please declare a state of emergency for Tampa Bay.

Martha Collins is an environmental and land use attorney with Collins Law Group. She sits on the Board of Healthy Gulf and resides in St. Petersburg.