INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The ongoing problem of red tide in the Gulf led to an argument and an unusual exchange of words by City Manager Gregg Mims at the City Commission meeting Sept. 18.
Earlier in the week, Mims informed residents that if a small amount of dead fish washed up on their beach then they should clean it up themselves. He said Pinellas County has a deal with a contractor to clean up large quantities of the fish, but not the small stuff.
That raised the ire of resident, Scott Shapiro, who told commissioners that the city was negligent in that it didn’t have a plan to clean up the fish.
“Last year it was Irma and you took care of everything then,” he said. “Now you are telling us we have to clean this up by ourselves.”
Shapiro predicted things would get worse before they got better.
“Remember 2004 and ’05 when we had red tide, there were lots of dead fish,” he said. “I’d say we’ll be filled with dead fish before this is over.”
“I ask you to put money aside so you can clean up the fish, take some money from the budget, maybe from the parking lot improvements to do the job,” he said.
It was after that that Mims went on the defensive; it was an unusual tactic for him.
“It is disrespectful to suggest we have no plan,” he said. “We do have a plan.”
“We have partnered with the county to make sure things are cleaned up. They have contracted to clean up any large amounts of fish, and they are out in the Gulf skimming dead fish off the surface before they even get to shore,” he said.
Mims noted that the city has a new raking machine that cleans up the fish on a regular basis then beyond that it is up to individual homeowners or residents to pick up the rest.
“It is a ridiculous notion to suggest anyone can pick up all the fish,” he said.
“It is part of living on the water. I got a scoop net and plucked dead fish out of the water at my own place,” he said.
As for people who complain about having to clean up the fish, he had some advice.
“People need to get over it.”
Earlier in the week Mayor Cookie Kennedy in an email answered an inquiry about how the city is coping with red tide. Her comments supported what Mims had to say at the meeting.
City officials are in constant communication with Kelli Levy, the county’s environmental management director, county staff and county commissioners, she wrote.
“They have skimmer vessels and conducting underwater red tide reports,” she wrote. “Having knowledge concerning red tide in the past, this is by far the most organized group effort I have experienced. Our city staff in IRB is in a vigorous mode of cleanup and daily raking with pick up on our beach.”
“The good news is this is historically off season for tourists. We intend to be back to business soon with residents and tourists alike enjoying our newly beautiful renourished beaches.”
In a report later in the week Mims told residents that in his daily drives along the beach he has seen
some, but not many, dead fish and the wind had been cooperating in keeping the fish away.
Although the subject of red tide took up most of the meeting, the reason for the special meeting was to consider second and final reading of the budget for the next fiscal year.
Commissioners unanimously approved the tax rate of 1.83, down from 1.93 for the current fiscal year. It is the fifth lowest millage rate in Pinellas County.
Commissioners also approved the budget and the appropriation of $9.5 million for the 2018-19 Fiscal Year. The budget includes a 3 percent raise for all city employees.
In an article about red tide cleanup in Indian Rocks Beach on Sept. 27, the Bee inadvertently reported that a rift between City Manager Gregg Mims and resident Scott Shapiro related to dead fish on the beach when in fact they were discussing the dead fish cleanup in the Intracoastal Waterway.
Shapiro complained that residents who lived on the bays and inlets of the Intracoastal should not have to clean up the dead fish floating near their homes while people who live on the beach get that work done by the city or county.
The Bee also wrongly reported that Mims said he used a dip net to pick dead fish out of the water behind his house when in fact he was referring to picking garbage out of the water.
In a note to the editor Shapiro said it is ridiculous to expect people to hang off their seawalls to pick out dead fish and they should not be expected to do it because they live on the water.