Friday, April 30, 2010

Citizens ask for more storm water drains

Dark clouds covered the sky Saturday, April 24, as U.S. Census Bureau employee Marcia Baxley returned home from a long morning of work. As she entered her apartment and looked at the gloomy sky through the living room windows, her facial expressions were concerning.

“When it rains around here, the waters can get pretty high,” Baxley said. “I don’t want to be liable for any water damages that could happen.”

The predicted weather forecast for that day was heavy thundershowers. Baxley said she would take precautions and line the front of her apartment door with towels. Fortunately she did, because a few hours later, the streets were overflowing with water.

On several occasions, Baxley’s apartment has fallen victim to minimal flooding, due to storm water runoff. Baxley resides close to the UWF campus, where runoff is common.

“On some rainy days I’ll be driving home and see water flowing through the streets, picking up trash sometimes,” she said.

It is not only Baxley that worries about water runoff. Storm water has always been a critical environmental issue in Pensacola, especially since it discharges into the bay.

Located in a watershed—an area of land that gathers precipitation easily—Pensacola has always been threatened by storm water runoff. According to the Pensacola City Web site, approximately $26 million are being spent on necessary storm water improvements, including sewer reconstruction and more storm water drains.

The Pensacola City Web site also states that the $26 million worth of renovations will be going on over the course of the next 30 years, which may be too long of a wait for some.

Charlie Morgan, manager of field services in Pensacola, said there have been several cases of erosion in Pensacola due to storm water.

“We’ve had some frequent cases of erosion due to storm water, especially in the Bayview area,” Morgan said.

After Saturday’s heavy rainfall, Pensacola citizens are concerned there might be a lack of storm water drains in the area, particularly at UWF.

Jasmine Jorge, secretary at the Fountains Apartments, said there is a lack of storm water drains on campus.

“More drains should be placed on campus near the parking lot by the Psychology building,” she said.

Jorge also said frequent runoff is noticeable in low-level areas, especially when it rains hard, just like Saturday.

The majority of storm water drains in the city empty into Bayou Chico and Bayou Texar. Toxic materials from storm water runoff such as garbage and oils from cars are deposited into the bayou, harming aquatic wildlife and creating health hazards.

Several health alerts concerning Bayou Chico and Bayou Texar have been addressed in the past.

According to Pensacola’s storm water utility fee, changes to the city’s sewage and storm water drains will be occurring over the next few years.

While future changes are falling into place, Pensacola residents can reduce risk of water contamination by doing simple things such as disposing of motor oil properly and cleaning up after pets so storm water will not pick up and carry bacteria and contaminants.

“It seems that the harder it rains, the worse the runoff gets,” Baxley said, glancing out the window.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Heather Reed on Deadman's Island Restoration Project

Heather Reed, owner of Ecological Consulting Services Inc., gave a briefing about the Deadman’s Island Restoration Project in Gulf Breeze on April 7.

As project manager of the restoration project, Reed stressed the importance of restoring the area, due to its historic sources and natural surroundings.

“You can go there and just touch history,” Reed said. “You never know what’s going to pop up.”

Deadman’s Island has a vast history, a place once used by the Spanish and British in the 18th Century. The old peninsulas later became a quarantine station for ships in 1891.

Because of the constant use of Deadman’s Island in the past, evidence of erosion can be seen.

“The Shoreline has eroded significantly, almost two football field lengths,” Reed said. “There is almost 20 ft. of erosion in one year.”

Reed’s resolution to this rapid erosion is a five phase project meant to stop erosion and expand the shoreline. Phase one consists of an oyster breakwater system that will create a reef.

Reed said that 155 breakwater systems were created. She also said that this type of breakwater system is the first to be used in Florida.

While the breakwater systems are proving to be effective, Reed said she was wary of storm surges moving the systems.

“It’s not the hurricanes we have to worry about, it’s the storm surges,” she said.

While the restoration project was in effect during Hurricane Dennis, coffins from the 1800s were unearthed at Deadman’s Island.

Phase two of the restoration project consists of ecodiscs, which demonstrate rapid oyster growth and are not affected by tides.

Permitting for the restoration project was allowed due to extreme public interest. Forty-two letters of support were written and a petition with approximately 200 signatures.

“Community involvement has been amazing in this project,” Reed said. “Everybody wants to save Deadman’s Island.”

The general public is invited to help build coir logs and commence planting at Deadman’s Island on April 17. For more information on the Deadman’s Island Restoration Project, visit the Web site at www.deadmansisland.br33z3.com.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Restoration of Fossil Creek

After watching the documentary concerning the restoration of Fossil Creek in Arizona, I learned a few new things.

First off, opposing organizations are capable of putting aside their differences and working together for similar causes. This surprised me at first because while watching the documentary, I had serious doubts that the Arizona Public Service would cooperate in restoring Fossil Creek to its original state. It gives me hope that other organizations will do the same.

And next, I had minimal knowledge about dams and what it is they do to the environment. My whole life, I always just looked at them as a man-made structure that just kind of…sits there. After watching this documentary, I am aware that dams can affect wildlife in the area and harm other species.

Fossil Creek seems to look like a majestic place to visit. I am satisfied with the ending outcome, and am glad that the APS was willing to cooperate. I am in high hopes that other dams across the U.S. will be destroyed in the future, since, according to the documentary, many of them serve no purpose anymore.

Why keep something that will do nothing but harm wildlife?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Green Senses

It’s spring in the university woods along the Ball Nature Trail and I am completely at ease. Surrounded in green, I sit down on the wooden path, leaning against tree bark. The bark feels unusually smooth in texture.

I am in total silence. I feel as if I have entered a dream-like state. Nothing in my waking life matters and the stress just seems to disappear.

I look up and see the wind gently swaying the trees. The branches seem to be trying to leave the earth and touch the heavens. The tips of the trees are sprouting fresh, green leaves. The birth of spring.

Behind a mess of twigs and leaves are vibrantly green leaf pads floating in the shallows of the lake, concealed in a way that casual passerby wouldn’t notice. A secret little haven. The tips of the pads are a bright yellow.

I look up into the clear blue sky and back down into the shallows of the lake. I can faintly see the blue from above. There is not a cloud in sight today. Looking up, I feel as if I am staring into a bright, blue void. The sun is hiding behind two taller trees, as if it were scared of its exposure up in the sky, with no clouds to hide it.

Two people are loudly and recklessly walking down the trail. They stop for a moment to talk. I wish they would go away. I feel violated that they would dare intrude my quiet space. I wait for them to exit the vicinity.

I look beyond the shaded shallows of the lake and see a fallen tree, blocking the deeper expanse of the lake. The collapsed tree has formed a boundary between the main lake and the beautiful green pads. If the tree were gone, would the leaf pads float away? There are so many of them crowded together, waiting for the tree to move so they can unleash their beauty and float away.

At this instant I hear the chirping of birds to my left. I jump in surprise but soon return to my quiet zone. The sound of the bird made me realize how disconnected I was from the busy world these past few minutes.

I have been putting all my attention towards the green leaf pads that I failed to notice the bright, crimson tree to my right. It is a beautiful red tree, concealed amongst green lush.

I inhale the smells of spring. Fresh air.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Edward Abbey and Leslie Marmon Silko

Edward Abbey’s “The First Morning” describes Abbey’s experiences with nature while watching the sunrise. Abbey has a deep connection with nature, more so than with humans at times. (“I’d sooner exchange ideas with the birds on earth than learn to carry on intergalactic communications with some obscure race of humanoids…”)

Abbey’s use of imagery and personification in describing the scene around him connected me to his writing. At times it seems as if Abbey is the only human on earth. (“I put on a coat and step outside. In the center of the world, God’s navel, Abbey’s country, the red wasteland.”) This sense of seclusion is almost peaceful. I believe that Abbey prefers the quiet life over the hustle and bustle most of us are used to.

In Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination,” a spiritual viewpoint is expressed. Silko portrays nature and life as fragile. Silko believes that all forms of life should be treated with care, and that all forms of life are connected since they are all derived from the Earth.

Silko said that when an animal or plant dies their body decomposes and is born to become something else.

Personally, I felt more of a connection to Abbey’s writing. He seems to have a great sense of appreciation for the land around him. The way he writes makes it seem like it is only him and nature, and it seems almost peaceful, not having to deal with the “obscure race of humanoids.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunshine Week: Public Records Audit

According to the Florida Sunshine Law, the general public is permitted to view governmental documents if they request it. In many past cases, some members of the public were not allowed access to some of these documents.

As part of Sunshine Week, we as normal people--not reporters--were sent out on a mission to various locales in Pensacola to see if we were granted access to specific documents that should be available to the public. We were unable to give out identification unless absolutely necessary.

I was told to travel to Pensacola’s City Hall and gain access to e-mails between the city manager and city commission for the past week. Before rushing off to Pensacola’s City Hall, I decided to do some research. I visited Pensacola’s official Web site to see if the e-mails I was looking for were available on the website. I found a search engine on the site that enables the person to search for council files, minutes, ordinances and resolutions.

I did not find what I was looking for so I looked up the directions for City Hall and made plans to head over there. The website said I would possibly be directed to the city clerk on the seventh floor, so I was hoping I was right in my prediction.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I managed to find a ride on Monday morning—four hours before the due date. As I was sitting in the car I was wondering how long this experiment would take and what would happen if I managed to screw up. One of my biggest worries of the morning (apart from not having eaten breakfast) was being interrogated because of what I was asking for.

In all honesty, I would be a bit creeped out if somebody walked up to me and asked for other people’s e-mails. But that’s not the point.

I arrived at City Hall at 9:22 a.m. and asked the bored, sleepy woman at the front desk where I needed to go to get access to general documents. Without asking me what for, she told me I could find what I needed on the seventh floor (I knew it).

I took the elevator up to the seventh floor and took a left, where a woman was sitting behind a desk (I praise myself for not getting lost for the first time ever).

The woman asked me if there was anything I needed and I said that I would like to view the e-mails sent between the city manager and city commission. Surprisingly, she did not look at me weirdly or ask me why I needed this information. She skipped that part and asked me what time frame I was looking for in the e-mails and I said this past week if possible.

I asked her if it was possible to have the e-mails printed out now, but she said she had to look up the e-mails first—something that takes a while I guess.

She asked me for my name and I asked her if it was necessary. She said she needed contact information from me so she could send me what I needed. I gave her my first name only, as well as an e-mail to reach me at. She jotted this down on a post-it note and stuck it near her computer.

The woman told me she would notify me as soon as possible and would send it to me. She included that if the e-mails were too big, I would have to come back and retrieve them in person.

I thanked her for her time and went back down to the lobby. The bored, sleepy woman was staring into space so I made her snap out of it by yelling good-bye to her from the opposite end of the building. Whoops.

Upon leaving the building, I realized that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The two people I talked to at City Hall were very nice and friendly, and didn’t think to question me at all. They didn’t ask me why I was here, why I needed this information, etc.

It also didn’t take up too much of my time either. I got home before 10:00 a.m. 

So does Pensacola’s City Hall comply with the Florida Sunshine Law? Yes, it seems like it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shelley Alexander on the loss of Sea Grass

Shelley Alexander, Manager of the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserve Office, spoke to the University of West Florida’s Environmental Reporting class on March 17 about the decline of sea grass in Pensacola.

Alexander said that sea grass was not only just underwater d├ęcor, but an important habitat for fish and aquatic sealife.

“Sea grass grow in non-secluded, wave-free areas,” she said.

The Aquatic Preserve is responsible for managing the 40,000 acres of submerged land in the Ft. Pickens area. They also manage the Yellow River Preserve (a class 3 preserve strictly meant for fishing and recreation), the Rocky Bayou Preserve and the St. Andrews Preserve in Panama City.

Alexander said that large industrial point sources made in the 50s and 60s were a detrimental cause to sea grass declination. Chemicals such as NH4 and PCB were being released into the water.

The result of overfishing is also a large cause, which can be sited in the smaller catch rates that can be seen in trophy fish over the years.

When overfishing occurs, large predators are gone, leaving small predators. The loss of mesograzers in the area lead to an increase in algal epiphytes, a fungi that destroy sea grass.

Hypoxia, the result of the oyster removals done in the past, is also another cause to the decline in sea grass.

“We still have hypoxia in deeper portions of the bay today,” said Alexander. Hypoxia and fish kills in the late 70s lead to plans of action.

Alexander also said that the freshwater sea grass of Pensacola disappeared, having moved to the southern shore of the Gulf Breeze Peninsula, as demonstrated on a map.

“Gulf Breeze needs to keep sea grass at its restoration state,” she said.

As of 1992, the sea grass that is still present does not exceed two feet.

Alexander said she is currently at work trying to restore sea grass in nearby areas by method of transplanting units where prop scars (spaces with no sea grass) are present. Thallasia is the plant being used to restore sea grass. She said its slow growth rate of about 20 years will take a while to observe.

In the mean time, other forms of awareness are being thought of to prevent sea grass destruction.

One such form of awareness are the “No combustible engines” signs placed in sea grass territory.

“This has been proven to help protect the sea grass,” Alexander said.

$1000 dollar fines are also being issued to those who refuse to obey these signs.

For more information on the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserve, visit the main Web site at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/yellow/.