Lawmakers cross party lines to take on red tide at Sarasota town hall

Red tide loans should go to employees, business owner says

Local business owner Sherman Baldwin attended a red tide town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Margaret Good. He said he wanted to know what he could do for his vulnerable employees depending on the income he provides.
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Local business owner Sherman Baldwin attended a red tide town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Margaret Good. He said he wanted to know what he could do for his vulnerable employees depending on the income he provides.

Two Sarasota lawmakers held a bipartisan town hall Saturday afternoon to hear comments and concerns from those affected by red tide.

Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, met with about 100 residents, business owners and other involved parties impacted by the algae bloom that has devastated the area. The legislators held the meeting at Suncoast Technical College and took notes at the podium as attendees rattled off a laundry list of problems.

It’s not often that legislators of different parties agree on an issue and reach across the aisle to reach a solution, but red tide has plagued Sarasota in a way that transcends politics, Gruters explained.

“The issues that we’re facing now affect our entire community. It doesn’t matter what group you’re from or what area you’re from,” he said. “If you’re anywhere near the water, if you have a business here or rely on tourism, you’re being impacted.”

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Good, who is running for re-election this year and Gruters, who is running for a state Senate seat, both promised to compile the results of the meeting and present them to their colleagues in Tallahassee during the next legislative session.

“We know that red tide is naturally occurring, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get exacerbated when it gets close to the shore and there’s nutrients and fertilizers that are running off,” Good said. “So we want to hear from you about your experience with red tide, because I really believe that the best way to learn what policies you need to enact is by talking to the people that your policies affect.”

Julie Schoults elicited tons of applause during her plea to both politicians. She explained that the red tide has forced her to reconsider living in Sarasota and asked that the representatives consider legislation that could prevent more than 150 tons of dead fish from washing up on local shores.

“I’m really just begging you to make ocean-conscious legislation because we don’t have time for anything else,” she said.

Schoults said the catastrophe is just of part of how the Earth is entering “an apocalyptic time.”

“We need to stop worrying about humans and start worrying about the oceans because without the oceans, humans will not survive and that’s just a fact,” she said.

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Other speakers said they’d like to see the enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of fertilizer during crucial summer months, better promotion of the government’s cleanup efforts and more public education on the issue of red tide. One resident said it disappointed him that funds have already been diverted to encourage tourists to still visit the area.

“Money to help tourism really does not make a whole lot of sense to me,” Justin Bloom said, referencing a $500,000 grant to Visit Florida as part of Gov. Rick Scott’s state of emergency order. It worries me that you’re actually going to make a false impression on people visiting our community right now.”

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One speaker said he believes that money would be more useful for funding of red tide research, echoing the sentiment of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium President and CEO Michael Crosby.

“Research on red tide is always popular when red tide is happening but if it’s not, then the researchers have trouble getting the resources and it rolls again, so I’d like more consistent efforts to fund the research to really figure out the cycles of what’s going on, what the inputs and causes are so we can figure out how to target exactly what we need to be doing,” said Todd Underhill.

Rampant red tide has been bringing heaps of dead fish into downtown Sarasota waterways and marinas, prompting hotels and other businesses to contract cleanup help.

Both Gruters and Good said they are committed to fighting for sustained red tide funding through their tenure in the Florida Legislature. Both lawmakers said they’d also like to find short-term solutions for problems, as well.

“It was powerful to see how the community was coming together. One person suggested we patronize the stores being hit hard on Siesta Key so that we can make sure that the economic impact is mitigated as much as we can,” Good said. “It was clear people really care about this community and care about our environment and really understand that the decisions we are making today and have made in the past are going to continue to affect us in the future.”

Multiple Sarasota beaches have been affected by “no swim” advisories from the Florida Department of Health. On Saturday, the advisory at Brohard Beach was lifted, but it remains in place at Venice Fishing Pier Beach, Longboat Key Beach and Lido Casino Beach.

Hundreds of dead fish line the shore on Siesta Key Thursday afternoon after being killed by Karenia Brevis, also known as red tide. FWC officials believe the same may be in store for Manatee County beaches soon.