ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back on criticism that he has politicized the red tide situation during a press conference in St. Pete on Wednesday.
While DeSantis and other officials spoke to media, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was left out of the conference, tweeted against DeSantis, calling his actions “political” and “sickening.”
“My team and I are focused on fixing the mess that was sent our way,” Kriseman wrote. “When crisis comes, partisanship must go. We should always come together in times like this.”
The politicization of the governor’s response to red tide is truly sickening. My team and I are focused on fixing the mess that was sent our way. When crisis comes, partisanship must go. We should always come together in times like this. https://t.co/zOd4SH5s3n— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) July 21, 2021
While Kriseman was not invited, Republican Chair of the City Council Ed Montanari, who does not have authority over city decisions regarding red tide, was present at the conference in support of the governor’s efforts.
“I’m so pleased that everybody’s working together to improve our environment,” Montanari said.
Mayor @Kriseman again not invited to the join the governor and his red ride roundtable today in St. Pete. The only invite to City Hall went to the Republican Chair of City Council who no authority over city decisions on this issue.— Benjamin J. Kirby (@bkirby816) July 21, 2021
When asked about the politicization allegation, DeSantis quickly challenged the claim.
“How did I politicize red tide?” he asked, later placing the blame for politicization on his opposition.
Last week, the St. Petersburg City Council voted to request DeSantis for a state of emergency to get resources for the red tide clean up. However, DeSantis once again pushed against this, saying that the state of emergency wouldn’t do anything that the state isn’t already doing to improve the red tide situation.
“The only way that would be helpful is if I had no money and I needed to access unallocated general revenue,” he said. “We appropriated for this, not just red tide but blue-green algae, because we knew these were issues he had to tackle.”
DeSantis said the emergency would hurt businesses by giving the impression that all of Florida has problems.
“This place is open, they’re doing well, and so it would have been very irresponsible to do that,” he said. “That was made a political issue by them, not by me. We’ve answered every call with financial assistance.”
DeSantis had backing from business owners at the conference, who agreed that the state of emergency could have hurt Florida’s economy beyond the Tampa Bay area.
“We represent nearly 1,000 businesses on the beaches, and a state of emergency does not help our economic vitality at all,” said Robin Miller, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
However, Congressman Charlie Christ, D-Florida’s 13th District, disagreed the governor’s assertion that everything is fine, calling his statements “happy talk.”
“DeSantis says ‘things are well’ in Pinellas,” Crist wrote on Twitter. “Maybe he needs a COVID test because if you can’t smell the rotting fish and red tide burn something’s wrong with your senses.”
DeSantis says “things are well” in Pinellas. Maybe he needs a COVID test because if you can’t smell the rotting fish and red tide burn something’s wrong with your senses. We need an emergency declaration and aid, not happy talk, Governor. https://t.co/TLpj6OmxNf— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) July 21, 2021
Regarding the response, DeSantis said the situation is improving, saying that he has been told by observers that the bay has improved since the previous week according to satellite imagery. As of Wednesday, the Department of Environmental Protection has committed $2.1 million to pay for cleanup in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg and has room to continue financial support thanks to the dedicated funding for algae cleanup, according to DeSantis.
Monitoring samples have also increased by 165 percent, DeSantis said, with helicopters helping to identify areas affected by red tide and a robot to collect samples every 20 minutes.
“One of the things they’re working on is doing some of this clay treatment,” DeSantis said. “They’ve actually done a little bit of that here to see and monitor. You gotta obviously know what you’re getting into.”
When asked about contributing factors to the algae blooms in Tampa Bay, DeSantis said Tropical Storm Elsa pushed some of the algae blooms along Florida’s coast into the bay. He also said the scientific consensus is that the wastewater dumps from Piney Point did not cause the blooms and that the algae was already here
Capt. Christian Obenshain, owner of Pier Dolphin Cruises, described what he saw the day of Hurricane Elsa.
“Came back at daybreak, and it was just seaweed and dead fish lined up the entire marina,” Obenshain said.
Obenshain also said news coverage of the red tide situation has impacted business.
“As soon as some of those stories ran, people were calling,” he said. “Hey I’m coming down in two or three weeks, should I even come down? Should I even book? What should I do?”
He said shrimp boats have gone out to collect the dead fish with nets to help clean up the situation.
“There were shrimp boats out there with nets,” Obenshain said. “There were little barges with bulldozers on them. It was an actual bulldozer barge. I had never seen those before.”