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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.

Riviera Bay, Coffee Pot Bayou water test results near normal, St. Pete says

Initial test results from water samples taken from waters in and around Coffee Pot Bayou and Riviera Bay have shown no abnormalities, but testing of sick and dead pelicans will continue, St. Petersburg officials said.

“From all we’ve seen, the water there is in overall good shape,” said Interim Water Resources Director John Palenchar. “But we will continue testing, and so the signs will stay up for awhile.”

The city has collected 15 dead or dying pelicans since Jan. 12. City workers also responded to a fish kill earlier this month in Riviera Bay.

This week, warnings for recreational water users about the dead pelicans (first seen at the Riviera Bay retention pond, then over the past weekend in and around Coffee Pot Bayou) were posted along the shoreline from North Shore Park through Coffee Pot Bayou. The signs informed residents about the enhanced and cooperative testing being spearheaded by the city of St. Petersburg and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after sick and dead pelicans were found in the area.

The city has also brought in an independent biologist to further study what’s causing the birds to be sick.

Initial water samples from the retention pond where the sick birds were first encountered showed low levels of dissolved oxygen. Samples from nearby Riviera Bay and waters further south into Coffee Pot Bayou had normal levels of oxygen.

In addition, the other tested elements fell within normal parameters for recreational waterways, except for a lone site near the Coffee Pot Bayou boat ramp showing poor water quality.

“The good news is that the water is in good shape,” Palenchar said. “We are continuing with follow-up sampling and data sharing with FWC and our environmental consultant. … We will continue to work with the FWCC and our independent partners to pinpoint the problem.”

Palenchar added that the incident is in no way related to last summer’s heavy rains and the subsequent discharge of potentially treated sewage water.

A reminder from the FWC:  Residents who see sick or dead birds or other wildlife are encouraged to make an online bird mortality report or to call FWC’s Fish Kill Hotline at 1-800-636-0511.

St. Pete bringing in ecologist to investigate sick pelicans

In an effort to expedite and enhance current testing and investigation into a troubling discovery of sick birds near local waterways, the city of St. Petersburg is calling in an independent ecologist to assist.

Scientists with Arcadis U.S., based in Melbourne, Florida, have joined with St. Petersburg Water Resources and investigative crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to gather clues into what is causing the Pelicans’ sickness.

“We want to have experts evaluating this,” said John Palenchar, interim Water Resources Director, “Independently tasked to find out — as soon as possible — what’s causing this.”

St. Petersburg has been dealing with this situation since last week, when a fish-kill was reported on January 12, at a stormwater retention pond in the Riviera Bay area.

“RBLake #1” is a freshwater stormwater pond with many exotic tilapia, which are susceptible to low temperature and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) issues. Adequate dissolved oxygen is necessary for good water quality, as well as a necessary element to all forms of life. Natural stream purification processes require adequate oxygen levels in order to provide for aerobic life forms. As dissolved oxygen levels in water drop below 5.0 mg/l, aquatic life is put under stress. The lower the concentration, the greater the stress. Oxygen levels that remain below 1-2 mg/l for a few hours can result in large fish kills.

Preliminary data from that pond showed readings at approximately 0.32 mg/l, with 4,900 pounds of fish removed from Riviera Bay Lake.

FWCC have taken water and algae samples to test for quality and is also testing the birds that died to determine cause of death.

The second location is Coffee Pot Bayou, about 3 miles south of Riviera Bay. Scientists are investigating the probability that the affected birds initially fed on fish at RB Lake#1 and flew to Coffee Pot Bayou, which is near a substantial pelican habitat.

All testing — by the FWCC, City of St. Petersburg, and now Arcadis — will be coordinated and used to formulate a plan to keep the birds safe, as well as to alert residents and recreational water users to any potential problems. Further details and results will be released when they become available.

Wal-Mart to close Midtown St. Pete Neighborhood Market March 3

After opening to much fanfare three years ago, Wal-Mart is shuttering its Neighborhood Market in the Midtown section of St. Petersburg.

First reported by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the retail giant announced it will close the store at 1794 22nd St. S March 3; its pharmacy will close Feb. 1.

The store was formerly a Sweetbay Supermarket.

“After a careful and thoughtful review process, we have made the difficult decision to close our Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market on 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg,” a Wal-Mart representatives said in a statement. “We have been, and will continue to be, supportive of our local store leadership and associates, and this decision is in no way a reflection of their hard work and customer service over the last three years. This decision is based on a number of factors, including financial performance and strategic alignment with long-term plans.”

After Sweetbay decided to close all its Florida stores, former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster had pressured the company to keep the nearly 40,000-square-foot location open, which was owned by the city.

“We are incredibly disappointed by Wal-Mart’s decision to close this particular store. In light of the city’s pursuit of Tangerine Plaza and our ability to incentivize Wal-Mart’s remaining, we are hopeful that they will revisit this decision,” current Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement.

“However, anticipating their closure, we will work closely with them to ensure their employees are placed at other Wal-Mart locations,” Kriseman added.

“While I join in the frustration many of our residents will feel, this may be an opportunity to secure a tenant that can successfully self-perpetuate or create an amenity that better serves the wants and needs of the surrounding community.”

The Neighborhood Market was a key business in the Tangerine shopping plaza, which had been expected to bring economic vitality to a traditionally underserved community of the city.

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