A turbidity barrier aimed at keeping debris from floating into Tampa Bay and the basins lining St. Pete’s downtown waterfront broke last week leading to chunks of Styrofoam cluttering various areas around the city’s otherwise pristine waterfront.
Taking a stroll along the waterfront Tuesday afternoon showed tiny bits of Styrofoam gathering in large clusters near the St. Petersburg Yacht Club basin. Another smaller cluster gathered along the seawall near the Dali Museum.
At Spa Beach, the debris was mixed in with seaweed washed up along the shore. Small bits had even washed up as far back as the picnic area.
According to the city, a storm broke a portion of the turbidity barrier and led to the foam washing into the water. Sonny Glassbrenner, the company hired to demolish the Pier, is responsible for cleanup.
St. Pete interim Public Works Administrator Tom Gibson couldn’t say exactly when the break happened, but know is was sometime last week. An Old Northeast resident, James Deininger, said he and his fiancé first noticed the debris midweek.
Gibson said high winds caused the vinyl barrier to rub against barnacles, eventually breaking away at the protective material and releasing Styrofoam.
Turbidity barriers contain Styrofoam to make them float.
Gibson expects the cleanup to be completed by the end of this week.
“They’re going through all the marinas with two guys in a boat with a pool net,” Gibson said.
So basically, workers with Sonny Glassbrenner are skimming the basins along downtown St. Pete the same way a homeowner might skim their pool after a blustery afternoon blew leaves in it.
Gibson said he’s not worried about environmental problems because the Styrofoam floats and is easy to remove. However, Styrofoam – scientifically known as Polystyrene – is a petroleum-based product and considered “a non-sustainable and heavily polluting resource” according to the Earth Research Foundation.
In the areas where the most Styrofoam had gathered – mostly near the St. Pete Yacht Club marina – there were oil rings emanating from the cluster of debris.
The residue may be minimal once the Styrofoam is cleaned up, but with criticism already mounting over the more than 31 million gallon dump of untreated or partially treated sewage into Clam Bayou, Eckerd College and Tampa Bay, this accident may raise additional eyebrows.
And it may rile up the anti-Pier Park group that seems to have gone fairly dormant.
“Demolition should stop and issue investigated so this can be corrected and does not happen again,” said Robert Neff, one of the major contributors to the VoteOnThePier Facebook page critical of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s process for choosing a new Pier.
The group also argues the demolition was rushed and hasty.
Gibson said the city won’t be taking any action against Sonny Glassbrenner because it was an act of weather. He said the demolition company is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again including doubling up on turbidity barriers in some areas.
The Pier is currently a skeleton of its once inverted pyramid glory. Two columns remain with the area that was the building’s elevator shaft completely gutted.