Recently inaugurated Jacksonville City Council President Jack Webb threw his hat in the political ring due to a “palpable sense of discontent with government,” and is now pledging to focus his attention on determining the root cause of fish kills in the ailing St. Johns River, which many suspect is runoff from industry giants Georgia-Pacific and JEA.
“It’s a very unique river — flowing from south to north with a slow flow makes it vulnerable,” Webb says. “Despite the fact that we are using city resources to combat its problems, the river’s capability to heal is being stretched.”
Growing up in New York, Webb often spent time along the Hudson River. Now a Jacksonville resident, Webb values the river for its aesthetic qualities, as well as its calming effects: “Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t have much free time to take my boat on the river, I still love to sit on the dock and relax. It brings back memories and it is a great resource for Jacksonville.”
But recent algal blooms and fish kills have the City Council president worried. “When you start seeing dead gar, skates, redfish and rays, it’s a wake-up call,” he says. “This problem – whatever it is — is starting to affect the food chain.”
Webb has scheduled a meeting for July 15 that will deal specifically with the river. The aim of the meeting, which will be held in council chambers and will be open to the public, is to determine the root cause of the issue and hear perspectives from those being affected. Participants will include Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, state Sen. John Thrasher and members of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“We want to hear from everyone who has some level of responsibility,” Webb says. “Anyone can chime in; the public can contribute anecdotally to what they’ve seen. On a local level, the river needs to be a priority.”
Webb says he’s seen irresponsible irrigation practices firsthand, and hopes that those will one day be a thing of the past: “Years ago, it wasn’t as big a deal to see someone flick something out the car window. But it has since become socially unacceptable to litter. I think it should become socially unacceptable to use anything other than green products to fertilize your lawn. I’ve seen nutrient-rich St. Augustine grass, which doesn’t even really exist in the real world, being cut and blown into storm gutters. We need a paradigm-shift in our attitudes, and I’d like a presumptive answer as to what confluence of events led us to this point.”
Though Webb is quick to say that he wants to identify the culprit behind the runoff, he doesn’t point the finger at any particular businesses, even though many suspect industry giants like Georgia-Pacific and JEA are to blame.
“I want answers,” Webb says. “Is the algae an effect of the past winter’s cold weather that is, in turn, inhibiting oxygen growth? Is it a result of toxins being dumped into the river? My hope is that we can come to a presumptive conclusion.”