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Jeff Brandes goes mobile; to hold mobile office hours Monday

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is going mobile.

The St. Petersburg Republican announced Friday he will be holding mobile office hours Monday in St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg.

In a statement, Brandes says his mobile office hours will allow constituents an extra opportunity to meet with him and discuss issues in the community.

Brandes’ mobile office hours are open to the public; no appointment is necessary.

Monday, Feb. 27
TIME: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Regatta Room, University Student Center
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
200 6th Ave. South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Monday, Feb. 27
TIME: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce
6990 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706

Brandes serves as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.


Latest findings released in St. Petersburg pelican deaths

After initial testing in and around a retention pond known as Riviera Bay Lake, independent biologists from Arcadis have discovered a potential cause.

“There’s a significant nutrient impact on this stormwater lake,” said Interim Water Resources Director John Palenchar, “A lot of nitrogen was seen in the analytical results that came back from this lake.”

Arcadis biologists say potential sources of the increased nitrogen could be from runoff containing fertilizers which create the neighborhood’s landscaping up to the lake shore, as well animal waste.

They also point to a cold-weather snap that occurred the first week of January, which produced an inversion event. Inversion events occur when the surface water temperature drops dramatically and is replaced with a bottom layer of water, containing lower levels of oxygen.

That led to a substantial fish kill in the lake – primarily of tilapia.

Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish, known for an inability to survive in cooler waters, and inhabit shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes and less commonly found living in brackish water -and are a food source of pelicans.

“It was very likely some sort of pathogen within the freshwater fish that may have caused this,” said Palenchar.

While studies continue to further pinpoint the problem, including tests on samples obtained along Coffee Pot Bayou, Palenchar is confident that Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission-initiated necropsies and future Arcadis findings will help chart a course of action to remedy the situation, including aerating dissolved oxygen in the lake.

“Being able to put in a fountain or a pump could actually alleviate that,” he said.  “We are asking Arcadis to look at any best management practices or improvements that can be done to improve water quality.”

The latest findings from Arcadis are available at

With sanctuary city comment, Rick Kriseman defiant, but misguided

Whether you agree with the rules or you don’t, it’s never wise for a person in authority to say they are not going to follow the law. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially did that when he stated the following in a blog post:

“While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” he wrote.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States. Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

Kriseman was forced to retreat Sunday after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his officers would enforce the law. That’s when Kriseman said in an interview that St. Pete isn’t really a so-called Sanctuary City — it just agrees with the concept.

That’s called trying to have it both ways. It usually doesn’t work.

That said, I agree completely with Kriseman that President Trump’s demonization of undocumented immigrants goes against everything America is supposed to stand for. So much about the president’s immigration policy is morally and ethically repugnant, designed to stoke irrational fear among the citizenry.

I just wish Kriseman had taken the approach of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He visited the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque Friday to support those jittery about the travel ban Trump wants to impose on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told them. “I don’t care what this President did — that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!”

See the difference in the approaches of the two mayors?

Buckhorn stepped up to the line and maybe jumped up and down on it a bit, but Kriseman stepped over it.

Buckhorn was supportive. Kriseman was defiant.

Both are Democrats, by the way.

Buckhorn told reporters covering the Friday event that Tampa is not a Sanctuary City, but he left enforcement up to his police department. When Kriseman said St. Petersburg police wouldn’t stop someone suspected of being here illegally, that took it a bit too far.

Hence, his retreat Sunday.

That could have repercussions for Kriseman in a re-election bid. While Pinellas County has only 245 more registered Republicans than Democrats (out of 641,484 voters), Trump won there in November by about 5,500 votes over Hillary Clinton.

A recent poll showed Kriseman trailing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker in a theoretical rematch (Baker has not declared he is running).

That’s a discussion for another day, though.

For now, I’ll give Kriseman high marks for having his heart in the right place. On the rest of it, though, he gets an incomplete.

Second poll in a row shows Rick Kriseman losing to Rick Baker in hypothetical match-up

Rick Kriseman would have a tough time in his re-election bid for St. Petersburg mayor, especially if former mayor Rick Baker entered the race, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

A StPetePolls survey conducted Jan. 30 shows Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent — if the election were held today. Just over 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Although Baker, the popular Republican who during his nine years as mayor built an impressive legacy, has told reporters that running again was “not on my radar,” nearly half the city wants to see him return to City Hall. Baker is currently president of The Edwards Group, the firm owned by St. Petersburg entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Edwards.

As a Democrat, Kriseman gets somewhat tepid support from his own party — 45 percent to Baker’s 39 percent, with nearly 16 percent unsure. On the other hand, Baker gets nearly 61 percent of Republican voters, compared to 25 percent for Kriseman. The two split the independent vote: 39 percent for Baker, 38 percent for Kriseman.

Baker also outperforms Kriseman with both men (47 percent to 36 percent), women (47 percent to 38 percent) and in nearly every age group. Kriseman does best with ages 50 to 69, behind Baker by only a single point (43 percent to 42 percent), while the poll reports a substantial number of undecideds.

As for a breakdown along racial lines, Baker is preferred over Kriseman by both blacks (48 percent to 33 percent) and whites (47 percent to 38 percent). Baker also is the choice of Hispanics (33 percent to 28 percent), despite nearly 39 percent of Hispanics remaining undecided.

The poll for used an automated phone call system with a sample size of 892 registered voters in the city of St. Petersburg. Results were weighted to account for proportional differences in demographics and that of the active voter population as of Dec. 6, 2016. Demographics included political party, race, age and gender. The results have a 3.3 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force to meet to discuss action plan

Pinellas County residents are invited to attend the second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday to hear about the team’s Initial Action Plan.

The Technical Working Group will present the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the county.

Monday’s meeting will be held at the University Partnership Center – Digitorium, located at the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. Attendees will have the opportunity interact with Task Force members and share comments or questions.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. Some systems were overwhelmed by the amount of rain and dumped raw and partially treated wastewater into county waterways. Others systems had overflows at faulty manholes.

The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners, and three private utility systems.



St. Pete releases rehabilitated pelicans back into wild

Following two weeks of care and rehabilitation, seven brown pelicans have been released back into their native habitat – near the rookery at Snell Isle in the waters of Coffee Pot Bayou.

“I’m happy with that,” said Kris Porter with Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife.

Porter and her team of rescuers were responsible for nursing the sick pelicans back to health after almost 70 birds were found sick or dead near the site of a fish kill earlier this month in a retention pond near Riviera Bay located close to the pelican’s breeding colony at Snell Isle. That rookery is also home to hundreds of birds who have exhibited no ill effects since the initial discoveries.

Warning signs were posted by the city of St. Petersburg on Jan. 15 as a precaution, while scientists took water samples and studied potential causes of the avian sickness. The signs were later removed as water quality test results were found to be well within the accepted parameters for recreational use.

Studies by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Arcadis, an independent firm hired by the city, continue. Those results are expected within the week. So far, tests have ruled out a number of possibilities, but no specific reason has been found.

Porter, who has more than 40 years’ experience working with wildlife and wildlife rescues, says while the pelican deaths may actually be from natural causes, the nearby fish kill and red tide caused by the cold weather inversion, may also be factors.

“It seems that we see pelican issues every January, but I’m just happy to have these birds better,” Porter said.

More information will be released when results of toxicology and in-depth water testing are finalized.

Rick Kriseman to join with Muslim leaders to host city’s first Iftar dinner

Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Wednesday that he and Muslim leaders from throughout Tampa Bay will host St. Petersburg’s first Iftar dinner welcoming residents of all faiths to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The event will be held June 14 at St. Petersburg’s historic Coliseum.

“Now more than ever, we must be expressive in our love and respect for people of all faiths,” Kriseman said. “I am excited to bring the community together to honor our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Abdul Karim Ali, the president of the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association, said: “We know that breaking bread together helps a community work together for a common cause, and so we thank Mayor Kriseman and his team for their leadership in ensuring that the sun shines bright on all residents and faiths in St. Petersburg.”

Kriseman made his announcement on the same day that President Donald Trump signed an executive order that moved the U.S. closer to building a wall along the Mexican border. The executive order also seeks to beef up border patrols, increase the deportations of illegal immigrants and crack down on sanctuary cities by stripping them of federal grant money. Sanctuary cities are those that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.


Nanoplankton, red tide found in St. Petersburg waterways

St. Petersburg is continuing to test waterways after nanoplankton and red tide was found in samples collected Thursday in areas where a fish kill and dead pelicans were found.

City officials said a water sample collected by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff at Riviera Lake #1, the site of an initial cold weather inversion-related fish kill last week which led to discoveries of sick or dead brown pelicans, has turned up bloom concentrations of nanoplankton. Meanwhile, a water sample collected at Bayou Grande, where a dead white pelican was found, showed background concentrations of Karenia Brevis, or red tide.

Results of those tests, as well as necropsies on the dead pelicans, should be ready by next week, the city said. Research teams from the city, state and an independent study group will continue to monitor the waters for any unusual activity during the weekend. State-sponsored and independent scientists also continue to examine the water quality.

Initial test results, compared with a recent baseline series of samples provided by the city of St. Petersburg, showed water was within recreational use parameters. Despite increased water testing in the area, recent events have not caused a decrease in visitors to Coffee Pot Park. Activity by residents on social media indicates that there is more fish and wildlife activity in the waters over the past week.

The city’s waterways became the focus of concern this past couple of weeks after the fish kill and pelicans were found dead. Officials initially posted the areas as off-limits to recreational users but removed the signs Thursday after initial test results, when compared with a recent baseline series of samples provided by the city, showed water was within recreational use limits.


St. Pete removes warning signs, continues to test water

After recent tests on water in and around Coffee Pot Bayou came back normal, crews from St. Petersburg’s public works department have removed the warning signs from around the shoreline.

The warning signs had been placed around Coffee Pot Bayou as tests were being conducted following the discovery of numerous sick and dying brown pelicans.

“The water quality is not in question in Coffee Pot Bayou,” said John Palenchar, interim water resources director. “And we are working with all concerned to try and find out what made the birds sick.”

A total of 17 pelicans were sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Wildlife Lab in Gainesville for necropsy. Samples taken during necropsy will go to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Georgia for further testing. FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg will receive additional samples for testing for algal toxins.

Busch Gardens is sending blood, fecal, and tissue samples to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute for testing for algal toxins.

Toxin analysis will help determine if the pelican deaths are is potentially related to red tide. Results are expected to be available two to three days after the labs receive samples. Results from samples submitted to SCWDS will take longer, possibly weeks.

Biological testing experts from Arcadis, a consultant the city hired, are taking further samples today for independent testing.

“There is no preconceived notion as to what may be going on out here,” said Scott Lehman, Arcadis senior asset consultant. “Our intent is to be that third party review to see if we find anything independent of what the city is finding.”

So far, Palenchar said, the city has found that the water quality is “well within the parameters for recreational usage.”

The test results from the independent consultant Arcadis will likely be ready by early next week.

Kathleen Peters asks state for millions to help solve sewage problems in St. Pete, St. Pete Beach

State Rep. Kathleen Peters filed two bills Wednesday aimed at helping pay for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

Peters, a Republican from Treasure Island, asked for $5.5 million in state funding.

Of that, $3 million in state funding would be earmarked for St. Petersburg to smoke test sewer pipes for leaks, install and seal manholes, among other work. The remaining $2.5 million would go to St. Pete Beach for the engineering, construction and permitting of the city’s sanitary sewer system.

Sewer systems in South Pinellas were the focus of much news last year after St. Petersburg and other cities either dumped or had overflows of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways. The problems were blamed in part on aging infrastructure that allowed rain- and groundwater to seep into the systems and overburden them.

Heavy rains during two tropical storms overloaded the systems. And, in St. Pete Beach’s case, the system was already at capacity in good weather.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council pledged to spend millions to fix and upgrade the system. Work began this month in the Bahama Shores and Coquina Key neighborhoods.

The $3.2 million project is part of Kriseman‘s infrastructure plan, The work consists of lining the pipes, which is supposed to extend the life of sanitary sewer mains and prevent groundwater infiltration from entering the city’s sewage collection system. Depending on the weather, the project is expected to be completed by September.

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