Gov. Ron DeSantis briefed reporters Wednesday on the state’s efforts to mitigate the current red tide outbreak in Tampa Bay, while also receiving praise from local business leaders for his handling of the algae bloom.
The outbreak, which has now led to the collection of more than 1,300 tons of dead sea life, is concentrated along the coasts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. At the conference, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Ed Montanari described it as the worst red tide he has seen after living here for decades, while also praising DeSantis.
“My family moved here in 1976. I’ve lived on the water, since that time. I’ve never seen a red tide bloom like we’ve had here in Tampa Bay,” Montanari said. “I’m just so impressed with the way that the local government, the county government and the state government, has worked together.”
DeSantis, surrounded by local political figures, commended the state’s work with counties and local municipalities to address the red tide — despite criticism from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was not invited to the press conference. Kriseman called on the Governor for help in cleaning up the dead fish brought on by the red tide last week, but DeSantis has maintained that he has already done the work to address it.
DeSantis has also called Kriseman’s pleas for an executive order declaring a state of emergency as an attempt to play partisan politics, arguing that it would do more harm than good, and that it “would not allow us to do anything that we’re not already doing.”
“You should look to see, is that credible to say that,” DeSantis said when asked about Kriseman’s claim of the Governor politicizing red tide. “This is something I tackled from day one in office, it’s never been political. They were the ones who were saying, ‘you’ve gotta declare a state of emergency,’ and so we asked him ‘why?’ Well, they didn’t know why, they just wanted to do it for a political talking point. The fact is we budgeted for this. We have money for 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
DeSantis then called on Robin Miller, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, who applauded the Governor’s choice not to declare a state of emergency, saying that it would harm businesses.
“We represent nearly 1,000 businesses on the beaches, and the state of emergency does not help our economic vitality at all,” Miller said. “There can be ramifications outside of the Bay area, if there is a state of emergency issued. We’ve seen it in other crisis situations, so we are proud that we have someone protecting our economy and protecting our business community.”
DeSantis highlighted signing into law SB 155 back in 2019, which established the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a partnership between FWC and Mote Marine Laboratory to develop technologies and approaches to control and mitigate red tide and its impacts. The bill also provided a $3 million annual appropriation for the program for six years, for a total of $18 million in funding.
The Governor also reinstated the Red Tide Task Force in 2019 after it was inactive for more than a decade. Since 2019, the state has dedicated more than $14.5 million to the Center for Red Tide Research at FWC.
“Just think, had we not done what I did to set the table for this when I first became Governor, we wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff that we’ve been able to do, and I think that’s just the fact that this is something we’ve taken seriously,” DeSantis said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has so far pledged about $2.2 million to Pinellas County, which will be shared proportionally with the city in accordance with expenses to date. At a press conference last week, Kriseman estimated the city spent around six figures so far — an expenditure not planned in the budget.
“Before I took office, there was no dedicated source of funding in the annual budget to respond to red tide. That meant in order for the state to provide resources to assist in cleanup efforts, the state would have to actually declare a state of emergency and then draft unallocated general revenue,” DeSantis said.
When asked about the impact of Piney Point, DeSantis pointed to Hurricane Elsa as the biggest factor in the current red tide outbreak.
“I think the scientific consensus is clear, it didn’t cause the red tide, the red tide was here,” DeSantis said about Piney Point. “I think the biggest impact on Tampa Bay was Elsa, unfortunately.”
DeSantis is also facing scrutiny from 2022 opponent U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who quickly took to Twitter to call out the Governor’s response, arguing that things are not as rosy as DeSantis claims.
“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,” Crist wrote.
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