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Estuary Program scientists blame Piney Point during red tide forum

Almost everyone agrees that the discharge of more than 200 million gallons of polluted water from Piney Point in April was necessary to save lives and property after a leak in one of the phosphate plant’s gypsum stack led to a warning of an imminent collapse.

But not everyone agrees that months later, the discharge has led to one of the worse bouts of red tide seen in the waters of Tampa Bay.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at a news conference on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, downplayed the effects of the discharge while addressing red tide concerns in the St. Pete communities. DeSantis blamed Hurricane Elsa for moving red tide farther north into the bay.

On Friday, scientists from Tampa Bay Estuary and Sarasota Bay Estuary disputed those claims during a community discussion about red tide and water quality in the bays.

Dave Tomasko, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program said the governor is likely being advised by scientists “we don’t necessarily agree with. Elsa didn’t kill those fish. They were already dead as of the July Fourth weekend and Elsa blew those dead fish toward the shore.”

Ed Sherwood, director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Tomasko, also pointed out that Tampa Bay waters east of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge rarely experience the effects of red tide. But they are now, and it’s not likely coincidence.