High enterococcus levels cause for concern

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High enterococcus levels in Bradenton Beach waters cause for concern
The bayfront waters south of the Bridge Street Pier recently contained higher than normal levels of enterococci bacteria. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – “Extremely high” pollution levels have been discovered at the Bradenton Beach bayfront, according to Suncoast Waterkeeper Executive Director Andy Mele and board Chair Joe McClash.

According to their Friday, Feb. 14 press release, “Over a period of two weeks, enterococcus levels exceeding 24,000 colony-forming units (CFU) per liter have been discovered twice along the waterfront at Bridge Street and Bay Dr. South in Bradenton Beach, an area intensively used by tourists throughout the year. Other samples reached 1,670 cfu/L and 4,884 cfu/L.”

According to the Florida Department of Health website, “Enterococci are enteric bacteria that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals. The presence of enteric bacteria can be an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife and human sewage. If they are present in high concentrations in recreational waters, and are ingested while swimming or enter the skin through a cut or sore, they may cause human disease, infections or rashes.”

The Suncoast Waterkeeper press release states that the Florida Department of Health’s threshold for beach closure advisories is 70 cfu/L and that Bradenton Beach bayfront samples have ranged from 24 to 340 times higher than the levels the state regards as unsafe for direct human contact.

“Bay Drive is home to a dinghy beach for people coming ashore from boats in the anchorage, a waterfront restaurant and a number of docks and private piers with small beaches. Bridge Street is Bradenton Beach’s main commercial hub, linked to the bayfront at Bay Drive and the historic pier. The area is frequently accessed by boaters and frequented by recreational paddlers,” according to the press release.

The press release does not cite any suspected sources for the higher-than-usual enterococcus levels.

For several years now, Bradenton Beach residents, business owners and city officials have expressed concerns about liveaboard boaters in that area dumping untreated human waste into those waters. It is not known if the liveaboard boating activities in the unmanaged anchorage south of the Bridge Street Pier contributed to the recently higher enterococcus levels.

High enterococcus levels in Bradenton Beach waters cause for concern
Several liveaboard boaters populate the unmanaged waters south of the Bridge Street Pier. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Suncoast Waterkeeper is also monitoring 11 other sites on a weekly basis for enterococcus along Sarasota Bay and its adjacent waters.

“The Florida Department of Health monitors public beaches weekly and biweekly, so Suncoast Waterkeeper makes no attempt to duplicate their efforts, but to monitor other areas used recreationally that are representative of our inshore coastal waters. Other sites exceed the advisory level of 70 cfu by orders of magnitude, but the two Bradenton Beach bayfront sites are by far the worst,” the press release states.

According to the press release, Mayor John Chappie said, “We are aware we had a problem and we are about to start testing ourselves so we can get to the bottom of it. You know we believe in the importance of clean, healthy waters. We have the clam project and living shoreline in progress.”

The Suncoast Waterkeeper samples were analyzed by Benchmark EnviroAnalytical Inc. an accredited and certified laboratory in Palmetto.

“We are not pointing fingers here,” Mele said in the press release. “We are concerned that there could be a public health problem and we will be working with the Manatee County Department of Health and the Bradenton Beach government to help identify the sources and resolve the problem.”

The Feb. 12 sampling data can be viewed in its entirety at the Suncoast Waterkeeper website.

Anchorage enforcement

Officer Eric Hill, Det. Sgt. Lenard Diaz and Lt. John Cosby from the Bradenton Beach Police Department are among those who play active roles in the ongoing and increased enforcement efforts taking place in the unmanaged waters south of the pier.

When contacted Sunday, Cosby said, “As time goes on, I believe some of that will clear up. We’ve reduced the amount of liveaboards there by half. Six months ago, we had 58 boats out there. We’ve got 24 right now. And the ones we have removed were the ones we were having the most issues with.”

Cosby was asked if the city is having issues with liveaboard boaters dumping human waste into those waters.

“We don’t know, because we would have to physically see them dump it, and we have not seen that. Obviously, if we’re out there they’re not going to do it in front of us,” Cosby said, noting it could possibly happen at night.

Regarding vessel inspections, Cosby said, “We have the Coast Guard help us with that, but the boat has to be operational. If the boat is derelict and the boat doesn’t run, the pump system doesn’t work so the Coast Guard can’t test it. So, that’s part of this derelict enforcement that we’re doing.

“They have to get the boat up and running and be able to demonstrate that it has power, steering and is seaworthy. And FWC just came out with a new course that boaters have to navigate in order to show us the boat is maneuverable. Before, it used to be a guess. Now a sailboat or powerboat has to run to demonstrate to us that the boat is able to be steered and has enough power to propel itself,” Cosby said.

“The big thing out there is continued enforcement. That’s the only thing that’s going to keep that under control, and that’s what we plan on doing,” he added.

Cosby noted the city has a newly-amended ordinance, Ordinance 19-509, that addresses vessels moored in the unmanaged anchorage. The amended ordinance now limits the space available for liveaboard boaters to leave their dinghies at and near the city-owned ‘dinghy dock’ next to the Bridge Tender Inn’s Dockside Bar.

High enterococcus levels in Bradenton Beach waters cause for concern
A newly amended city ordinance allows beached dinghies to be removed from the area at the dinghy owner’s expense. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“That’s going to help a lot. We’re having signs made that say you can’t beach your dinghy anymore in that area.  If there’s not enough room to put their dinghy on the dinghy dock, then they’re out of luck. They’ve been beaching them on that little cove where the dinghy dock is. They’re not allowed to do that anymore. Once the signs are up, we’re actually allowed to seize the dinghy, charge a $100-a-day storage fee and also charge them what it costs for Public Works to remove it,” Cosby said.

The amended ordinance prepared by City Attorney Ricinda Perry also addresses the rafting of multiple vessels and/or floating platforms and other prohibited acts and anchorage-related concerns.

High enterococcus levels in Bradenton Beach waters cause for concern
A recently amended ordinance also addresses the rafting of multiple vessels and/or floating platforms. – Joe Hendricks | Sun