Dunedin may school violators on pollution

Attend a polluter's education class? That, in so many words, may eventually be an option for violators of city stormwater regulations.

DUNEDIN — Attend a polluter's education class? That, in so many words, may eventually be an option for violators of city stormwater regulations.

City commissioners are discussing ways to educate residents about the importance of preventing the contamination of waterways.

They unanimously approved a stormwater management ordinance Sept. 3 that establishes regulations pertaining to drainage for residents as well as commercial operations and sets penalties for violators.

City Stormwater Program Coordinator Whitney Marsh said that staff can start rolling out an education program to let the public know that the ordinance will take effect when two of the governor's executive orders pertaining to the coronavirus are lifted.

Those who commit minor violations on their first offense will get a warning and education.

"That is our main goal with all of this. We really want to educate the public. Our goal is to change behavior, and they are required to clean it up. This shouldn't be on the taxpayer to clean up your mess," Marsh said.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski liked the idea having some kind of education for violators who commit moderate offenses.

"Because again, we want them to think, but they just don't," she said.

Minor violations include the illegal discharge of nontoxic materials such as yard debris, sand and gravel down storm drains. Moderate violations apply to potentially harmful materials such as concrete and masonry products, and major violations apply to toxic or health-threatening materials, such as sewage, paint, chemical and petroleum products.

Fines range from $75 per violation on the second offense in the residential category and no maximum for violation in the active construction category. As request by commissioners in July, staff has eliminated daily fines in the residential category.

Bujalski asked what staff's thoughts were about requiring offenders of minor violations to sit in a class for a couple of hours instead of getting fines.

"I think it's a great idea. It reminds me a lot of driver's education," Marsh said.

Commissioner Moe Freaney asked whether that could be addressed countywide.

"That would be totally cool. Kind of like a driver's ed class except it's based on pollutants. If you are a multiple violator, go take your class," Freaney said.

Despite the revisions that soften fines in the residential category Commissioner Heather Gracy expressed concerns, saying that the violation matrix in the residential category prepared by staff is "a little bit scary for residents."

"I'm concerned about the language we are using and the approach, just at the residential level," she said.

Though she said she is for protecting every bit of Dunedin's environment, she wants to hear something better than it's a work in progress.

"We will have to go back and tweak it, and I’m going to be open to that," she said.

Other commissioners spoke about the need to protect water quality.

"We have seen what happens with algae blooms in South Florida. It's serious issues so it does need to have teeth," Commissioner Jeff Gow said.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes had similar comments.

"I’m going to tell you," Kynes said, "I'm ready to move forward. I do think in order to protect our environment, we've got to stand up and say, 'We do have some rules.’"

Staff also weighed in on the need for enforcement.

Dunedin Public Works and Utilities Director Jorge Quintas said getting compliance affects workload for staff assigned to stormwater projects.

"Every time we have to stop what we are doing to address these issues, that's work we're not doing because we are having to chase somebody that's a bad apple," he said.

City officials want to curb behavior, but at some point "you have to get somebody's attention," he said.

"In our epic goals we talk about what we want to be. Environmentally, this is an important factor," he said. "It's something that's near and dear to us because we are the ones who deal with it on a regular basis."

Marsh said the city has an interlocal agreement with Pinellas County and other municipalities stipulating that the cities are responsible for a joint control of pollutants.

"So if it originates in our community and leaves our community to another jurisdiction, we are the ones who are held responsible for that material. This helps us enforce that as well," Marsh said

Among other topics discussed to raise awareness to drainage issues, Bujalski said she liked the idea of art for stormwater drains, noting that such work is done in Clearwater.

"It would really brighten a neighborhood and call attention to people not putting things down the drain," she said.

Commissioners complimented Marsh for her work, with Freaney saying Marsh's presentation was one of the best she has ever seen.

Kynes got chuckles from her colleagues for the way she framed the importance of the ordinance.

"As they say in Oklahoma," she said, "'Let's get us some teeth."