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Council discusses ‘Healthy Beaches’ legislation, algae plan

By Staff | Feb 18, 2009

During Tuesday’s City Council session, local leaders and members of the public discussed several key water issues important to the island, including the proposed “Healthy Beaches” legislation and the city’s plan to deal with any future red drift algae infestation.

Earlier this week, the city announced that it presented draft legislation, known as “Healthy Beaches” – Senate Bill 1296 and House Bill 707 – to Sanibel’s legislative delegates, Rep. Gary Aubuchon, District 74, and State Senator Michael S. Bennett, District 21. Aubuchon and Bennett have sponsored the Bill in their respective houses.

If adopted, the legislation would require that in the event a Florida beach is closed by a local health department due to contamination, that the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) be required to identify the source of the contamination.

“We had to do something than just hope that it wouldn’t happen again,” said Denham, who explained the importance of the legislation to the island’s environment as well the local economy. “This Bill hopefully adds more teeth to the DEP.”

Sanibel resident Barbara Cooley lauded the city’s efforts, but indicated that the legislation could be made stronger.

“Yes, this is good,” she said. “But we need to do more.”

“I think that this is the first step in a journey to clean up all of these things,” Denham responded.

Dr. David Berger agreed that the draft legislation should have presented firmer standards, adding, “I think that we should be doing more. It’s a matter of health, safety and welfare.”

After a brief discussion, the council approved supporting the “Healthy Beaches” legislation unanimously. The next step in the legislative process is for Senate Bill 1296 and House Bill 707 to be heard in committee at the State House in Tallahassee.

In a related matter, the issue of handling any future red drift algae infestation on Sanibel was brought up by councilor Peter Pappas.

Addressing the city’s Natural Resources Director, Dr. Rob Loflin, Pappas asked what plan was in place that would deal with another infestation like the red algae which plagued local beaches in 2007.

“We do recommend to the City Manager that we need to do a good cleanup when there’s that amount of nutrients, but it has to be cost-effective,” Loflin said. “We have to determine the best technique to use because it is extraordinarily expensive. I think that we’re all prepared when it comes to protocol and reaction.”

Pappas then asked if it was true that there was no way to remove red drift algae before it makes landfall, and if there was no mechanical process to effectively remove the algae without damaging – to minimally a certain degree – the environment. Loflin confirmed both questions with a yes.

“It is true that if we had another infestation of algae that we do have a plan,” said Denham, who asked that City Manager Judie Zimomra put a link on the city’s Web site – www.mysanibel.com – where residents could see Sanibel’s plan. “It is going to be expensive, but it’s the best that we can do with what we know presently.”

After the red drift algae infestation two years ago, the city began investigating several methods of removal. They evaluated both land-based (skimmers and raking systems) as well as water-based algae harvesting methods. Currently, the only approved method of removing the harmful algae is raking the piles by hand, then transporting the spoils in bags to an off-island location.

“The citizens need to know that this council will act, and act to the best of our abilities,” said Jim Jennings.

“Even if the five of us go down there and remove the algae ourselves, Denham added, “I think that we have a good plan in place.”

Cooley again addressed the council and supported Pappas’ line of questioning.

“This discussion is a bit absurd,” she said. “We all agree that when there’s red drift algae on our beaches, we will need to clean it up.”

In other business, several members of the council mentioned that they were alarmed after seeing a fast food vendor in operation over the weekend along the causeway islands. According to Denham, licensing for such a business – in this case a portable hot dog stand – is approved through Lee County officials.

“Personally, I’m appalled that we would find a fast food chain on our causeway,” he said, adding that he has already spoken with Lee County Commissioner and island resident Bob Janes about the issue. “I must say in Bob Janes’ defense that he was quite concerned about it. I think that the words that he used was ‘sick to his stomach.’ But we have no control over this.”

“I think our concern is that we don’t want to see wrappers blowing all over these islands,” added Jennings. “We’ve got to see what kind of wrappers they’re using and make sure that they’re taking care of them.”

Resident Patty Sprankle told the council that the problem isn’t simply with a single fast food vendor contributing to the litter problem along the causeway, but the public in general.

“The amount of garbage there is disgusting,” said Sprankle, who noted that she and fellow citizens assist with frequent cleanups on the causeway. “I think that it’s a total lack of respect.”

Also, Pappas voiced his opposition with the consent agenda item related to Zimomra’s self-imposed 15 percent salary reduction.

“We have a remuneration process that’s either right or it’s wrong,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for our City Manager, but I’m going to vote no on this issue.”

The item, pulled from the consent agenda to be discussed separately, was approved by a 4-1 vote.