First, the good news. Sarasota County will not seek an extension this week of its local emergency rules due to red tide, effectively lifting the local state of emergency that was issued Aug. 14.
The county has submitted seven extensions of the emergency declaration since then, but decided not to issue another due to low amount of red tide reported this past week and due to the forecast of easterly winds from Hurricane Michael.
News of the lifted red tide state of emergency came as the Florida Panhandle readied for the hurricane to make landfall on Wednesday.
The bad news is that Hurricane Michael, which passed by, caused the county on Thursday to issue a “No Swim’ advisory at 13 of 16 beaches it monitors for enterococcus (fecal) bacteria, including beaches in and around Venice, but not Venice Beach. Additional testing results for Friday were not available as of press time. The Sarasota County Department of Health’s website posted this: “Due to Hurricane Michael, local postings to the bacteria and red tide levels may be hampered.”
Still, lifting the local red tide state of emergency is welcome news. The bloom began in June and has plagued the Gulf Coast, causing serious economic damage to the tourism industry upon which many coastal communities rely. Recently, beachside restaurants have reported seeing a comeback in the number of people returning to the beaches.
“The county continues to see improved conditions along shorelines with reports of minimal dead marine life on beaches,” said Scott Montgomery with Emergency Management.
“Yesterday, we informed the cities as part of the Hurricane Michael City/County Leadership Conference that with the improved conditions, we were going to let the red tide state of emergency expire,” Montgomery said.
In an online red tide situation report issued by Sarasota County Emergency Management on Oct. 9, officials said they will have a draft local state of emergency ready to re-issue should higher concentrations of red tide re-emerge.
Emergency Management is currently at a Level 2 (partial activation). Over the past week the K. brevis toxin released by red tide was tested at background to very low levels in many near-shore areas, up to high concentrations further offshore in a few locations north and south of Sarasota County.
Sarasota County Parks and Recreation continues to monitor and evaluate each morning whether fish kills will require beach cleaning by hand or mechanical beach cleaning, officials said.
The county collected a total of 255 tons of debris off area beaches since Aug. 1, according to the latest situation report.
Gov. Rick Scott issued an Emergency Order for six counties due red tide on Aug. 13 and announced that $3 million was available to assist impacted counties with cleanup.
A Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant, which ends Dec. 1, 2018, allowed Sarasota County to contract with CrowderGulf to collect and remove red tide debris from beaches ($720,480) and for collecting, transporting and unloading the debris into designated dumpsters $124,400). The debris is then hauled to the central county landfill.
“Reimbursement and disbursement of funding through the DEP grant in coordination with cities will continue,” Montgomery said.