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Crews removed this derelict boat from the south side of the Memorial Causeway in October. Officials are also concerned about live-aboard boats and whether they are illegally discharging into local waterways.

CLEARWATER — After hearing anecdotal evidence from divers, Council member Hoyt Hamilton was convinced some boats moored in the Mandalay Channel were illegally dumping waste. 

State preemptions limit the city’s options on cracking down on the practice, so in August he urged staff to do something about it.

“We need to hire a diver with a camera to go out there and do this and then we need to put it in email or whatever to every single legislator in Tallahassee, and say how in the world can you allow this to continue to happen?” he said.

So that’s what staff did, as divers in December investigated some of the bottom lands and water quality underneath the boats moored at three locations in the channel.

Needless to say, Hamilton and some of the other council members were surprised — but also pleased — after water samples showed no red flags for human waste. 

“I’ll be the first one to say I’m shocked by the numbers,” Hamilton said Feb. 1 during a work session. “I was expecting much more, but what that also tells me is this area is getting much better flushing action through tidal movement than I thought it was getting.”

Marine and Aviation Director Ed Chesney reported the colony-forming unit results, which is used to estimate the number of bacteria or fungal cells, was in the 12-13 range.  

After speaking with a representative from the Department of Health’s Florida Healthy Beaches Program, Chesney said the number was nothing to be concerned about.

“He said it’s a very low number. That’s in that recreational zone, so there’s no red flags there,” Chesney said, adding he was told numbers close to 400 would be considered high.

After samples were taken, divers then went down and circled in a 100-foot diameter. Visibility was low, but they still found no evidence of human waste and nothing to indicate a spill or continued release.

“There was nothing of note in these three sections. I feel that the coliform we saw there was background at best,” he said.

Vice Mayor David Allbritton said he, too, was shocked by the results, but he was glad the city did it because now it has a baseline to measure against any future problems. 

“I think we ought to chalk this up to no news is good news to an extent,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “It is a shame that they probably are discharging. I don’t think there is any question of that, but I think it was worthy of doing the investigation.”