County contracting APTIM for canal cleanup

red tide canal cleanup
This Coral Shores’ canal was one of three in that community that were still littered with dead fish last week. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – Manatee County is contracting APTIM to remove the dead fish and marine life accumulating in residential canals and channels due to red tide.

The pending contractual arrangement was announced at a press conference on Friday afternoon and the decision disappointed some local fishermen who previously offered their assistance to the county.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said he would ask the County Commission to appropriate $500,000 when presenting the APTIM contract details on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Hunzeker said the county already does business with APTIM and Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said later that APTIM provides design and engineering services for the county’s beach renourishment program. With offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Boca Raton, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, the Texas-based company also offers environmental and disaster recovery services.

The Aug. 17 press conference began with County Commissioner Steve Jonsson saying, “We’re going to do our best to alleviate some of the situations our citizens are experiencing.”

Hunzeker said the cleanup would occur in canals and channels on Anna Maria Island, the mainland and Longboat Key. He said the goal was to pick up the maximum amount of fish in the shortest amount of time.

“We don’t want to represent that we will get every fish in every canal and every waterway, but we’re trying to do the major cleanup. We have no idea how long this will last nor how long this contract will be in place,” Hunzeker said, noting the county budget includes contingency funds set aside for these types of unanticipated expenditures.

Serving as the county’s point person, Hunsicker said reconnaissance work conducted over the weekend would determine where the cleanup occurs.

Hunsicker said the cleanup would be done by hand, using boats and nets. “We’re not going to get every fish. And we’ll have to be patient because they are floating fish in the open waters. We’re not going to be able to remove the floating fish in our open bays, our rivers and the Gulf.”

Hunsicker said APTIM will clean mangrove shorelines because those shallow waters are difficult to access by boat.

Hunsicker said local fishermen could still be hired by those who desire a more thorough cleaning and Hunzeker noted that those who contract private fish removal services will not be reimbursed by the county.

Hunzeker was asked why the county didn’t contract local fishermen to clean the canals.

“We just don’t have time to deal with each individual fisherman to enter into each individual contract with 20, 30, 40, 50 fishermen that might be willing to help,” he said, also noting liability insurance and permitting requirements.

Fishermen disappointed

On Sunday, the county website still listed contact information for nine businesses or individuals offering fish removal services. Among them was Nathan Meschelle, president of the Cortez chapter of the Organized Fishermen of Florida (OFF).

“I’m not happy about the situation and there are many others that feel the same way. I am very curious to see how well of a job this outsource group does and what they actually cost us,” he said of the county’s decision.

Meschelle leases a boat from Adam Sears, who led a crew that assisted with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup efforts in 2010.

“We’re available, we worked on the oil spill, we’re insured,” Sears said, noting that OFF members are covered by the organization’s liability insurance. “We could have already had this done and cleaned. They’re basically saying we couldn’t do the job.”

When contacted, Jonsson said he would ask APTIM to consider using local fishermen if possible.

Coral Shores

During the press conference, Jonsson said dead fish were creating public health concerns in residential areas, including the Coral Shores community on Cortez Road.

“It’s critical to give these people some relief,” he said.

A visit to Coral Shores on Wednesday, Aug. 15, revealed three residential canals whose landward ends were filled with dead and rotting fish that created a nearly unbearable stench. That afternoon, resident Cynthia Saint Cacchiotti received from one individual listed at the county website a $6,000 bid to clean the three canals.

Cacchiotti’s husband, Rick, is president of the Coral Shores homeowners’ association and the bid she obtained was research for a potential association expenditure – a process that would require 10 days advance notice before a vote of members could occur. Instead, the Cacchiottis and some of their neighbors hired local fisherman Preston Rowland to begin cleaning their canal on Friday, before the APTIM contract was announced.

Coral Shores residents were scheduled to meet at the Cortez Baptist Church on Tuesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts.

Manatee County also is now operating a Citizens Information Center that includes a hotline for citizens who have questions about red tide and the cleanup operations. The hotline number is 941-749-3547.

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