Local Environmental Wins
New year, new Pensacola? Looking back on this past year, various environmental milestones in our city have been met. Local community members shared their environmental successes, losses and plans they have for 2018 that ensure growth will continue.
Emerald Coastkeeper Laurie Murphy said one of her biggest successes in 2017 is Carpenter’s Creek. Murphy said she became involved in the creek a year and a half ago when she received a complaint from a citizen that lives there. The woman had a bunch of trash piling up in her yard and trees were falling on the side of the creek bank due to significant erosion from urban development.
“That is when I became introduced to Pensacola Councilwoman Sherri Myers,” she said. They decided to do something about it and started cleaning it up. “It has been quite a large process, a lot larger than I thought.”
“The city has now allowed all of these businesses to dump their storm water into the creek and not just businesses, all of the water from Springdale subdivision is channelized into the creek,” Councilwoman Myers said of the creek that was a popular recreational spot 50 years ago. “It doesn’t go through any pipes.”
Now the city has put about 30 storm water vaults on pipes that go into the creek. Those vaults take trash, debris and chemicals out of the water. However, some businesses and big apartment complexes are grandfathered-in so their water goes directly into the creek untreated. It’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars to clean this creek’s water, according to Myers.
Emerald Coastkeepers have organized several clean-ups of Carpenter’s Creek, targeting different spots along its 5.2 miles that stretch from above Interstate-10 to Bayou Texar. The array of items pulled out of the creek have been unusual and disheartening—appliances, toilets, furniture, 42 shopping carts, tents, mattresses, tarps, blankets, and alcohol bottles were among the trash removed. So far, four miles of the creek have been cleaned up and approximately 20,000 pounds of trash have been removed.
Murphy said a year ago she and Councilwoman Myers located the headwaters of Carpenter’s Creek and found a piece of property on the creek for sale with a four-acre lake and heritage trees that haven’t been touched in more than 200 years.
“There were a couple of developers that were interested in purchasing it and they said we’re going to put townhome communities there,” she said.
Murphy wrote a personal check for the down payment of the property and had three months to find a legacy donor. However, after failing to find a donor, she decided to try going to the county and talk to Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson and his staff about the opportunity to see if the county would have funding to purchase this piece of property.
Commissioner Robinson chose Carpenter’s Creek as his RESTORE project, so Murphy and Myers knew he would have the progressive mindset to understand the importance of obtaining this property and he did. The county purchased it and closed on the property on April 28.
“We’re really excited to get the county to work with us, as they tend to be very cooperative in helping us to obtain our goals, which is to make this a beautiful public space for the community to enjoy,” Murphy added.
Myers praised Robinson for choosing Carpenter Creek for his RESTORE project and for securing $1.3 million from the county for a master plan for the creek. She said, “This year has been the best year Carpenter’s Creek has probably had in 50-60 years.”
Murphy praised the 35-40 regular volunteers who have helped with the cleanups. She said, “I could never have done it without them. They’re the ones that need to be praised the most for their dedication, loyalty and their hard work.”
Myers has already identified her next project for Carpenter’s Creek. She wants to be sure the new bridge on 9th Avenue near Publix is the right bridge design for the creek, improves accessibility to creek, and has the proper lighting.
Murphy has multiple projects planned for 2018, some that involve the creek and some that don’t. Her next project with Carpenter’s Creek will be invasive species removal and putting together an adopt-a-stream program through the city of Pensacola’s Environmental Advisory Board that will recruit businesses and other private entities to adopt a section of the stream and keep it clean.
In January, Emerald Coastkeepers will have its first invasive species cleanup to give community members that don’t get the opportunity to walk around much to have a nice, clean view of the creek. The goal is to build two educational centers and to raise funds for additional items along the creek, such as kayak and canoe launches, other green spaces or walkways for the public.
Murphy has also started a Certified Storm Water Volunteer Program because stormwater is the largest source of pollution to all our waterways globally. She has created a Certified Clean Neighborhood Program to educate neighborhoods and homeowners associations on how to keep stormwater and neighborhoods cleaner.
She also is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a national organization focused on clean water and aligned with similar environmental organizations in 34 countries.
“Ever since Scott Pruitt got elected or nominated to take over the EPA, the EPA has relaxed environmental rules, especially to protect businesses and reduce cost to them,” Murphy said. “That can create a lot of dangerous and unhealthy conditions and violates the Clean Water Act.”
She is concerned about Pruitt’s effort to reduce regulations because companies would be allowed to take shortcuts in their processes that release into the waters of the United States, which are protected by the Clean Water Act. She said, “Which means they can probably put out more chemical and reduce the quality of the water which can endanger the public in general.”
Not only is Pruitt trying to reduce the regulatory burden on industries, but he is trying to redefine what specific bodies of water qualify for the Clean Water Act regulations, she added. Pruitt is also trying to weaken the affluent guidelines. Right now there are limits on how much pollution coal power plants can release, and he’s trying to allow them to be able to release more chemicals and relax those guidelines, which affects us locally with the Crist Plant.
“So we’re on a lot of national campaigns and all of those affect our area because we have some of the highest toxic release categories in our county due to the number of superfund sites that popped up before the Clean Water Act was institutionalized,” Murphy said. “So because of that, now we have a lot of fallout and a lot of toxic pollution in Bayou Texar, we have toxic pollution in Bayou Chico and there’s a lot of bodies of water that are directly or indirectly polluted from toxins.”
Another community activist, Christian Wagley, the Coastal Organizer for Gulf Restoration Network out of New Orleans, works on local water-quality issues, climate change and coastal resilience from Perdido Bay to Apalachicola Bay.
Wagley works as a volunteer with 350 Pensacola that focuses on climate change issues. He owns a consulting business, Sustainable Town Concepts, where he works with architects and builders to make homes more efficient, as well as being active with Bike Pensacola.
He wants to see Pensacola become more walkable and bike friendly.
“Getting more bikes on the street is a great thing for the city,” Wagley said. “Then drivers and other people get used to seeing bikes and it takes away that conflict between bicycles and cars.”
Riding a bike is the most efficient form of transportation there has ever been in history, according to Wagley. For decades, every meeting about traffic solutions has always been to add more lanes. Wagley said now we’re having an incredible transformation where we’re looking at ways to take lanes away and give more room for people.
He thinks 350 Pensacola had a very successful year. The non-profit pushed for the city of Pensacola to form a task force to study climate change, how it affects the city of Pensacola and what they should do about it. That task force finally started meeting earlier this year. The committee is hearing from experts on several issues and considering recommendations.
Another victory for 2017 was to see Congressman Gaetz acknowledge climate change, he said. Congressman Gaetz made very strong statements that the science is sound, that man is a main contributor and this is something that is so serious we need to act on it. He said, “I was very, very pleasantly surprised to hear how strongly he spoke on that.”
Even with the success that Pensacola has had this year, there are still challenges in our community. Wagley believes a huge problem locally is that we still get 90 percent of our energy from fossil fuels. Gulf Power is getting better by getting 11 percent from renewables, which is a step forward. Wagley is going to continue to push the task force for the city to come up with good solutions for climate change and to continue to transition to clean energy.
He said, “If we can get more solar energy here so many of our environmental issues go away.”