A total of 228 tons of red tide debris has been cleaned up since Aug. 1, Sarasota County reports

City of Sarasota emergency manager reminds business owners about state loan program and Small Business Administration assistance

The Sarasota Police Department Marine Patrol comes to the aid of staff with Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who have found a sick manatee near a bridge on South Boulevard of the Presidents, close to St. Armands Circle. Testing will be conducted in St. Petersburg to determine the cause of illness, the Police Department says, but Mote staff believes the manatee is suffering from exposure to red tide. Photo courtesy Sarasota Police Department

On the night of Sept. 17, the City of Sarasota’s emergency manager, Richard “Todd” Kerkering, reported to the City Commission that, through Aug. 24, city staff had applied for $4,000 in reimbursements for expenses associated with cleaning up dead fish and debris related to red tide.

Sarasota County workers had picked up about 70 tons of debris on Lido and South Lido beaches, he said, and city workers had collected another 8 tons in city parks on the water, including Bayfront Park.

As of last week, he said, countywide economic losses had been put at $3.1 million.

Almost exactly two days after Kerkering spoke with the city commissioners, Sarasota County staff announced that the county had collected more than 228 tons of debris since Aug. 1.

Siesta was named at the top of the county’s Sept. 19 Red Tide Status update, which listed the beaches where cleaning operations were conducted that day. On Siesta, 28 tons were removed, the report said.

A county red tide update via email — which goes out to people who have signed up for it — noted that the fish kill accumulation on Siesta, South Lido, Lido and North Lido beaches necessitated the use of mechanical equipment on Sept 19. However, on Turtle Beach, a contractor was deployed for hand removal of dead fish.

At the Centennial Park Boat Ramp in the city of Sarasota, the report said, hand removal of dead fish also took place.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission graphic shows changes in red tide concentrations between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14. Image courtesy FWC

During his Sept. 17 remarks to the City Commission, Kerkering explained that, working through Sarasota County Government, city staff had signed a grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for slightly more than $228,000. The funding will cover the cost of outside help to pick up debris and pay for rental equipment, disposal fees and overtime hours for regular city employees.

Kerkering indicated that the city could use state funds, for example, for the expense of 12 day laborers who would work 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week, under the supervision of city Parks and Recreation Department staff.

At some point, he said, the city may need to hire a contractor to take a boat out “to clean up fish on the water.” The estimated expense of that operation would be $5,000 per load, Kerkering added. Staff has budgeted $75,000 for September, October and November, he continued, in the event it has to pursue that option. If the situation “becomes critical,” he pointed out, “we can bring [the contractor] in on a 48-hour notice.”

Kerkering told the city commissioners that easterly winds and Tropical Storm Gordon’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico the first week of September pushed the red tide bloom further from Sarasota County’s shoreline. “Right now, it’s on its way back. … We need another nice week or two” with easterly winds, he added, instead of the westerly flow that had prevailed over the past couple of days.

On Sept. 13, Keep Sarasota County Beautiful alerted volunteers who had signed up for the annual International Coastal Cleanup that the Sept. 15 event had been cancelled. The reason, the email blast said, was the “daily fluctuations in environmental conditions.”

Some improvement this week


This is the latest graphic on red tide posted by FWC. Image from the FWC website

In its mid-week update on Sept. 19, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported that the red tide bloom extended along approximately 135 miles of coastline, “from northern Pinellas to northern Collier counties, and … offshore (10 miles or more).”

A patchy bloom of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, continued in Northwest Florida, FWC added.

The concentrations of the algae generally had decreased in southern Sarasota County and central Manatee County over the past week, the update pointed out.

On Sept. 12, FWC reported that samples collected for that update showed increasing concentrations of Karenia brevisin Sarasota County locations; FWC noted “high” observations of more than 1 million of the algae cells per liter.

On the morning of Sept. 20, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Reporting System (BCRS) (www.visitbeaches.org) said respiratory irritation was moderate on both Siesta Key and Lido Key, some dead fish were reported on Siesta and “Heavy” amounts were seen on Lido.

That same morning on Venice Beach, respiratory irritation was marked as “Slight,” with “Some” dead fish.

Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism agency, continues to post links to red tide information on its website.

“We have miles of beaches in Sarasota County,” that page says, encouraging visitors to check the Mote BCRS. The page points out that the Mote information is updated twice each day, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Getting help

Todd Kerkering addresses the City Commission in September 2017. News Leader photo

During his Sept. 17 discussion with the city commissioners, Kerkering reminded the public that businesses suffering losses related to red tide can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

An SBA Sarasota County Center opened in Bee Ridge Park on Sept. 7; its hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The park is located at 4430 S. Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity also is offering assistance, Kerkering pointed out.

In August, Gov. Rick Scott directed that department to activate the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program. Through that, owners of businesses with two to 100 employees can apply for short-term loans up to $50,000. The businesses “must demonstrate economic injury or physical damage,” a state news release explained.

Those loans will carry no interest for a limited time, Kerkering said, but an 18% interest rate eventually will be imposed.

“We all have received complaints from small business owners,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie told Kerkering.

Additionally, on Sept. 18, Gov. Rick Scott announced that FDEP would provide an additional $4 million in grants to assist communities dealing with red tide. Sarasota County is to receive $400,000 of that, a state news release says.

Altogether, the news release notes, state grant funding of $13 million has been made available to help with the negative impacts of both red tide and the blue-green algae caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ release of water from Lake Okeechobee earlier this year.

Out of that amount, $500,000 has been awarded to Visit Florida for an emergency grant program to help tourism agencies in counties dealing with red tide, the news release points out.