OPINION: Keep water quality a top priority in Sarasota

·3 min read
Hagen Brody
Hagen Brody

Last week the Sarasota City Commission took several decisive votes to reimagine the nearly 261 acres known to visitors and residents alike as simply Bobby Jones.

The beleaguered course’s future has been the longest-running challenge throughout my first term in office.

I’m happy to report that the plan solidified last week is one that honors the course’s history, secures its future and provides more than 150 acres for new public park space – including over 25 acres of water cleansing wetlands.

After years of debate the original 18-hole Donald Ross course that once graced the edge of the circus' summer quarters will be fully restored to its original glory when Bobby Jones himself used to tee off.

In order to provide for the necessary public park and water quality improvements, the golf footprint had to be reduced from 45 holes to a fiscally sustainable 27 holes (18 regulation holes plus a 9-hole short course).

The vast wetland restoration will filter out red tide-fueling phosphates and nitrates from the approximately 2.6 billion gallons of stormwater runoff that is annually collected from more than 6,000 acres of our community – and then enters the home stretch down Phillippi Creek and out to our bay.

These water quality improvements are so vital to the health and future of our waters that a prohibition against future development will now run with the land, protecting it in perpetuity through a conservation easement. And this new central park will undoubtedly lift the quality of life for tens of thousands of residents.

However, concerns remain downstream.

Phillippi Creek has a troubled history that needs to finally be addressed. In fact, such concerns were the basis of some apprehension by our Southwest Florida Water Management District representative regarding a $1.5 million grant to support water quality improvements. These valid concerns were eventually alleviated by Sarasota County’s commitment to transitioning seepage-prone residential septic systems to central sewage for proper treatment, and we received the grant.

Subsequently the county received $84 million from the federal American Rescue Plan, of which Sarasota County staff recommended that nearly one-third – $31 million – be allocated to converting more than 1,300 Philippi Creek area septic system users to the central sewer infrastructure to address the creek's longstanding issues.

However, contrary to the county staff’s recommendation, the Sarasota County Commission last month redirected the money that was allocated to support the septic-to-sewer conversions to other priorities.

To be fair Sarasota County deserves to be recognized for its investment in other areas regarding wastewater treatment upgrades, and we consider Sarasota County to be a partner in the Bobby Jones project. But I believe that finishing septic-to-sewer conversions along Phillippi Creek would have – dollar for dollar – the broadest and most lasting positive impact on our environment, economy and community.

This cannot be seen as a real priority only when a red tide bloom is actively threatening our coast.

The septic-to-sewer conversions along Phillippi should remain a fully funded and expeditious priority – and they should be viewed as work that can coincide with the transformation and water quality improvements at Bobby Jones. As a coastal community we have a responsibility to ensure that only the cleanest water makes its way into our bay and estuaries.

Hagen Brody is a former mayor and current Sarasota city commissioner. He is a graduate of Sarasota High School.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Keeping Sarasota's water quality high is worth the investment

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