Protecting the Little Manatee River reflects the power of bipartisan lawmaking | Editorial
Protecting the river was one of the four local developments from the week that made this week’s list of highs and lows.
The Little Manatee River near the Sundance community.
The Little Manatee River near the Sundance community.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 7

Saving Little Manatee. Good news on the environmental front: The $1.7 trillion federal spending bill that President Joe Biden signed last week begins the process of further protecting the Little Manatee River by potentially designating it a scenic waterway. The initiative, sponsored by Sarasota Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, was included in the omnibus spending bill as a means for safeguarding the river from future development. Buchanan had sought to add a 51-mile segment of the Little Manatee River in southeastern Hillsborough County to the National Park Service’s Wild and Scenic River System. That designation has the primary goal of conserving free-flowing rivers across the country. A House committee authorized a formal study before the designation could occur. The measure was included in the spending package Congress sent to the president, and if all goes well, the designation would protect the river for public enjoyment without intrusive development. This is exciting news that reflects the power of bipartisan lawmaking.

Safer St. Petersburg. A new road project should soon make Fifth Avenue N in St. Petersburg much safer. The Florida Department of Transportation is resurfacing 5 miles of the Alternate U.S. 19 route to make the road more pedestrian friendly. The project stretches from Sixth Street N to 55th Street, and will include new medians, cutouts for bicycles and pedestrians, marked crosswalks, pedestrian signals and other features to help calm traffic and make for a safer commuting option. Construction is expected to begin in the fall or early 2024, take up to a year to complete and cost from $12 million to $15 million. This is a sensible, affordable and overdue improvement. Officials need to ensure the work causes the fewest possible hassles, and if they can speed up the timetable, all the better.

Gaslight Square’s benches. It’s been nearly four years since the city of Tampa removed the benches from downtown’s Lykes Gaslight Square Park, allegedly to repair them. Nobody really believed officials at the time; it always seemed more about rousting homeless people from Gaslight Square than improving the seating experience. City officials later said the benches were too beyond repair for public use, which only inflamed suspicion. (After all, has anyone seen the condition of Lowry Park?) We appreciate the need — especially in a pocket park like Gaslight Square, which sits in a dense, urban setting — to maintain a sense of order, and to balance uses to provide an inviting environment for all. But that didn’t happen here. Moreover, the city wouldn’t be in this spot if it hadn’t been obsessed over the years with paving over so much green space downtown. People enjoy Gaslight Square because it’s a shady place in a sweltering city. This is another example of a bad solution driven by bad urban design. Let’s fix it by returning some benches, or at least come clean about the intent here all along.

Stamas retrieves cross. And finally, we can only imagine the joy that George Stamas is experiencing, one day after the 16-year-old made local history by retrieving the white cross Friday at Tarpon Springs’ 117th annual Epiphany celebration. Eastern Christian denominations celebrate Epiphany to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and the manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Tarpon Springs hosts the largest Epiphany celebration in the western hemisphere, an event capped by the dive for the cross in Spring Bayou. Sixty-five boys plunged into the 62-degree waters Friday. By coming up with the cross, Stamas, tradition says, will be rewarded with a year of blessings. We congratulate him on what will be a lifelong memory. And we also hope the other 64 divers have a rich, rewarding year.

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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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.