BY MITCH PERRY TAMPA
TAMPA, Fla. (Bay News 9) — The Tampa Bay area is considered one of the most vulnerable metropolitan areas in the country when it comes to rising sea-levels and climate change.
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On Tuesday, the mayors of the three biggest cities in the region – Tampa’s Jane Castor, St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Clearwater’s George Cretekos – addressed what they’re doing to contend with the issue at the premier event of the first-ever Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition’s Summit, held at the Hilton Carillon Hotel in St. Petersburg.
Castor said that Tampa is continuing a nationwide search for a sustainability and resiliency officer. Before making this key hire, Castor sent John Bennett, her chief-of-staff, to the Netherlands to learn about how that country deals with flooding issues.
“(For) hundreds of years they’ve been dealing with the water issues over there and flooding … so we’re very excited to get started on some of those,” she told reporters after the meeting.
Castor and Cretekos also talked about recycling. Castor bemoaned how much it cost cities to recycle. The Clearwater mayor complained about the lack of education when it comes to recycling, repeating a couple of times that people should not place used pizza boxes with stains in their recycling bins.
Castor also said that water was a huge issue for the city. She reminded the audience that Tampa dumps 60 million gallons of treated water into Tampa Bay on a daily basis.
“My city is in peril, but we are making progress,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “The goal is not to stop the seas from rising tomorrow, but to mitigate. To stop those seas from rising higher in the future.”
Kriseman was one of the first mayors in the region to hire a chief resiliency and sustainability officer. He says the city is about to hire their third employee in that office, in addition to a position paid for by the Michael Bloomberg Philanthropies a year ago.
Mayor Cretekos said it can be difficult for leaders to get public buy-in for a problem that is inevitably going to get worse years from now.
All three mayors talked about the lack of good public transportation in the region being a climate issue.
When asked what they’d like to see from the Legislature on the issue, Castor blasted Tallahassee’s intrusion on local government.
“Stop interfering with home rule,” she said.
Moderator Tim Nickens from the Tampa Bay Times referred to how an earlier speaker at the conference had mentioned how the state of Virginia was looking at buying back public lands that were vulnerable to climate change. All three mayors said it could be an issue for their successors, but didn’t believe it would be anything that they would need to address during their tenures in office (Cretekos is in his last year on the job; Kriseman has almost two years left in his term, while Castor was elected less than a year ago and could be in office until 2027).
When asked about climate change deniers, Castor, citing her 31 years working in the Tampa Police Department, got to the point.
“You can’t fix stupid,” she said, eliciting a large round of laughter.
“Is there climate change? There’s people who will never believe that there’s climate change,” said Cretekos, the lone Republican on the panel. “We can’t deny that there are certain things we can do to help mitigate some of these problems that the weather causes. If we can inspire them to do that, to buy into this whether they admit that it’s climate change or not, really won’t make a difference,” he added.
The conference continues on Wednesday.