From Piney Point to COVID deaths, the highs and lows across Tampa Bay and Florida
This week’s offering also include the state surgeon general’s departure and a disturbing COVID chart.
Aerial drone image from Piney Point on April 14 in Palmetto, Florida.
Aerial drone image from Piney Point on April 14 in Palmetto, Florida.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Aug. 28, 2021

Big step on Piney Point. The appointment of an independent receiver for the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property marks a major step toward shutting down this environmental threat. The state Department of Environmental Protection had sought a receiver as part of the lawsuit it filed earlier this month against the property owner, HRK Holdings. The appointment means that day-to-day management of the property will shift to the receiver, which officials hope clears the way to shutter the site near the Manatee-Hillsborough County line. This spring, a leaky reservoir at the site prompted the release of 215 million gallons of polluted wastewater into Tampa Bay. While workers patched the torn seam, the state fears that the summer rainy season could spark another release. Piney Point has received more than 24 inches of rain since the start of June. It has room for roughly another 11 inches, and is expected to receive at least another 9 inches by the end of September. The receiver will need to get going, involve area agencies and environmental groups and have the state’s full support to close Piney Point before another environmental crisis erupts.

He’ll need a small box. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced this week that Dr. Scott Rivkees will depart next month as the state’s surgeon general. Floridians might think this is old news; after all, Rivkees has hardly been seen since an aide to the governor yanked him from a press briefing on the coronavirus in 2020 after the surgeon general suggested that Floridians might have to social distance for up to a year. He emerged from protective custody earlier this month to issue a rule at the governor’s directive mandating that parents be allowed to excuse their children from masking requirements at school — a measure a state judge on Friday struck down as unlawful. We realize that gubernatorial appointees are expected to carry some polluted political water. But Floridians deserved much better.

Welcoming Afghans to Tampa Bay. Many watching the chaos of Afghans fleeing Kabul are left with a simple question: Where are those lucky enough to get out actually going? Some are ending up in Tampa Bay. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services has settled six people from Afghanistan and is preparing for four more next week. As the Tampa Bay TimesMichaela Mulligan reports, the group settles up to 100 refugees each year. Now they are opening up for Afghans fleeing from the Taliban’s takeover of the country in advance of the Aug. 31 deadline for America’s withdrawal. Another local nonprofit, Radiant Hands, is also poised to help with refugees from Afghanistan. The group helps resettle and integrate refugees from Muslim and Arabic-speaking countries. Aside from meeting an immigrants’ immediate needs, these groups also help orient refugees to navigate everyday life — catching a bus, for example — and provide training in life skills, such as driving or opening a banking account. As much as these groups give, refugees give back in many ways, opening businesses, adding character and contributing to the diversity and fabric of a community. We all have a stake in making Tampa Bay a welcome and thriving place to settle. To help, contact Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services and Radiant Hands.

Step right up. Hernando County School Board candidate Mark Johnson and his wife, Arlene Glantz, took their push against “critical race theory” on a road trip recently, hosting an unofficial “town hall” that doubled as propaganda and a campaign event. Spinning conspiracy theories from cherrypicked records, they derided the theory as a “Marxist” effort to create division in the classroom and to dumb-down academics. Leaving aside that interpretation, Hernando doesn’t teach critical race theory, which examines the impact of racism across American life. No school district in Florida does. Yet it’s become a dog whistle in the culture wars that’s putting school children and teachers in the cross hairs. “If we don’t stop this craziness now,” Glantz told the audience, “we’re gonna lose this country.” Glantz and her husband should take that advice to heart.

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Setting COVID records. The final item this week comes via a graphic.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.