ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — More than once in the last few days, the mayor of St. Petersburg has said to leave politics out of the red tide crisis washing up in his city.
Thursday he tweeted, "Nearly 800 tons now. We're going to ignore the politics from the governor's office and continue to work with other state officials and county officials to get these fish out of the water."
Nearly 24 hours earlier Kriseman pleaded for Governor Ron DeSantis to send resources to help with the clean-up effort. He specifically asked for more shrimp boats to help collect the rotting marine life.
Kriseman said he wasn't sure how much longer the city and contractors for the city could spend working on the cleanup. He said the city needs help.
"We are asking the governor, please, Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, we need your help."
But by Wednesday afternoon, the governor's office painted a very different picture.
Jared Williams, the Deputy Communications Director for DeSantis sent 10 Tampa Bay an e-mail saying Mayor Kriseman is "either unaware of what is actually going on in his own backyard or is deliberately lying and using red tide as an attempt to score cheap political points."
Williams also sent a lengthy description of everything the state has done to aid the current red tide crisis in Tampa Bay. Those claims included:
- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of executing grant agreements to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties
- Pinellas is getting $902,500 to help with the red tide cleanup efforts
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff are participating in weekly red tide coordination calls and initiating a red tide response with the City of St. Petersburg.
Kriseman countered the governor's office's response, saying "I don't care how our city receives assistance. Whether it's the governor declaring an emergency or his DEP doing something...I just need more boats."
10 Tampa Bay wanted to verify some of the claims made by the politicians.
According to Kelli Hammer Levy, the Director of Public Works with Pinellas County, the county is in the process of getting $902,500 from the Florida DEP but they don't have it yet.
"So from June 11 to July 10, between the county and the city we had expended approximately $902,500 so that money will go to reimburse us up to that point," said Hammer Levy.
She said she is also in touch with the DEP regularly to amend the agreement and get more funding.
"Matter of fact, 15 minutes ago, I was on the phone with the interim secretary of DEP, Shawn Hamilton, he confirmed they are going to make additional resources available to the county in support of the cleanup," said Hammer Levy.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson with the city of St. Petersburg says they've been left in the dark.
Benjamin Kirby, a Communications Director with the city of St. Petersburg forwarded 10 Tampa Bay an exchange between a city lobbyist and a FWC staff member.
The lobbyist asks for assistance saying: Not sure what role FWC plays in any of this, but could you alert your team. I am alerting the Governor's office as well. Is DEP involved in these types of incidents?
The FWC representative responded on July 9 saying: Maybe you and I can touch base Monday so I can relay whatever information Gil shares today? I know DEP is involved from a water quality aspect, but we take the primary role when it comes to the fish kills. I’ll keep you posted.
Kirby says that's the last the city heard from anyone with the state.
On Thursday, Williams said Governor DeSantis’ Office has had multiple conversations with members of the City of St. Petersburg City Council, affected stakeholders, and members of the legislative delegation in the area but did not give specific names.
For details on who discussions between DEP, FWC, and the city of St. Petersburg are with, Williams referred 10 Tampa Bay to the DEP and FWC.
Hammer Levy with Pinellas County says she talks to someone with FWC at least once a day and during a meeting earlier this week officials said this current bloom is unprecedented.
"The fact that this bloom has gone all the way up into Tampa Bay is really highly unusual," she said noting the last time they saw something like this was fifty years ago when sewage was still being discharged into the bay.