Biggest Manatee Count Yet

[This was originally posted in 2017. Manatees are no longer “endangered,” but remain listed as “threatened.” Management of the critter remains mired in 1990s theories — which were wrong then, and even more wrong now. We’re working on new data analysis tools to help foment new thinking about waterways management.]

Bob Atkins of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways and I had queried the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), about this year’s manatee count just this past weekend. The results were released today. 

It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten turnaround THIS fast!

Another record “minimum population” count — 6,620*. Yet, manatees remain on the endangered list, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), violating yet another court order to update its official classification. WHY?

We are now firmly in the world of the surreal. The FWC press release doesn’t say “record number counted”. They are simply “encouraged” by the count.

Manatees have more than doubled in 15 years and
have more than tripled in 30 years.

By comparison, Florida black bears number 4350, and are no longer on the FWC imperiled list AT ALL. http://www.tampabay.com/…/florida-black-bear-popula…/2270659

In support of removing bears from its list, FWC noted the bear population has grown 60% in the past 14 years. They allowed bear hunting in order to reduce the rate of growth! Curious minds will note than 60% over 14 years is less than 100% over 10 years. A lot less, in fact, although still quite robust.

Also by comparison, there are 1800 giant pandas. They are now OFF the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) endangered list, and are considered “vulnerable”, akin to our “species of special concern’ in Florida.
http://www.worldwildlife.org/…/giant-panda-no-longer-endang…

WWF says the panda population has increased 17% in the past decade. Curious minds note again…. 17% over a decade is barely one-tenth the rate of growth of our Florida manatees.

It took 14 years for wildlife managers at FWS and FWC
to act on their recommendations to reclassify manatees
as “threatened” from endangered. 

We have been waiting since 2003, when FWC first recommended reclassification, and since 2007, whenFWS did the same — for….. nothing. Seriously, what is WRONG with these people? WWII began, was fought, and won by us in LESS TIME than it’s taken FWS to fulfill its own recommendation.

Years ago, before the Manatee Forum started, Ken Haddad of FWC and Sam Hamilton at FWS, came up to me — and, I suspect, others — and asked, “If we update all the studies you think are not accurate, what will you do if the science says that boats are an extinction threat?”

I responded, “We will find a solution. We will follow where sound science leads.” We have kept that pledge.

Dammit, I should have demanded they agree to do the same!!

Sam, a good guy who ran the Southeast Regional FWS office, died at a young age a few years back. Ken, also a good guy who headed FWC, retired a couple years ago — in part because he was disgusted with the political interference over this very manatee issue.

This is just plain ridiculous. This is an all-too-perfect example of why we are fed up with government.

_______
* Applying recently developed peer-reviewed abundance calculations to this “minimum count” is a bit of a stretch, but just a little bit. I estimate there are at least 8,000 manatees in Florida and likely close to 10,000. But, whether it’s 6620, 8000, or 10,000, there has never been this many in the state. Never. In some places, it’s accepted there are likely too many, drawn to places they shouldn’t be, such as warm water discharges at power plants, by good-intentioned but wrong-headed regulations. No one in the regulatory world ever imagined there could be this many manatees in Florida.

Award Presidential Electors by District? Who Wins?

Pretty much everyone recognizes that the Electoral College is not going to be removed from the Constitution in time for lunch. Or the next election. Or the one after that.

One option: Minnesota is considering a bill to apportion its electoral college votes by congressional district, as Nebraska and Maine already do.

What would happen if all states apportioned votes by congressional district?

Trump still wins.

Using data from the Daily Kos, Trump won 241 congressional districts to Clinton’s 194.  (There are 435 congressional districts.)

Clinton also picked up 3 electors by winning the District of Columbia, which doesn’t have representation in Congress, but gets three electoral votes.  So, the tally is 241 : 197.

The math whizzes among us recognize that 241 is not 270, the number needed to win. What’s going on here?

Example
From the Daily Kos

The policy wonks among us recognize we also need to count the 100 more electoral votes that represent senators. Each state has two senators, so each state gives two electoral votes to that state’s winner. Trump gets 2 for Florida, Clinton got 2 for California, etc.

Clinton carried 20 states and Trump 30, so 40 more for Clinton, and 60 more for Trump. Therefore, if we had apportioned electoral votes by congressional district, the final total for each candidate would be:  Trump 301 and Clinton 237.

301 + 237 = 538.  Electoral votes are 435 for Congress, 3 for DC, and 100 for Senators: 538.  538/2 = 269.      270 to win!

Compare that to the election results “as written” — that is, with our current electoral college system, where all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) are winner-take-all. The original electoral college tally (before some faithless electors took away 2 Trump votes and 5 Clinton votes) was 306 : 232. Because seven “faithless electors” changed their vote — 2 did not vote for Trump, and 5 did not vote for Clinton — the “certified” 2016 electoral college vote was 304 for Trump and 227 for Clinton. In short, if we had been apportioning the electoral college votes by congressional district, President Trump would have received 3 fewer electoral college votes and he would still win with a big margin of victory.

But.. There’s More!

Here’s the intriguing part. Almost no one keeps track of presidential races by congressional district. Votes are counted at the county level, and many counties are part of more than one congressional district.

The Daily Kos — no fan of Trump — and a similar group called Polidata, which is partly sponsored by the Republican National Committee — are the only ones out there that have delved into the precinct-level votes and broken them out by district. Who knew?

Their research reveals that changing to congressional district electoral college votes wouldn’t have changed much in this past election, but the Washington Post worries the findings spell trouble ahead for Dems. And it does. Lots of “safe” Dem districts appear to be at risk!

What’s a Clinton supporter to do? Some out there see direct popular vote as the only “real” choice — meaning the choice that presumably would have elected Clinton. But, remember, too, that while Clinton won the popular vote, but she did not win a majority of votes. She got about 48%, Trump 46%, which doesn’t seem nearly as impressive as saying she got “millions” more votes. So…..what do we have,  a runoff between the two leading vote-getters?

Oh, lordy.

Another option. Some states are considering bills that would award their electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote — a pathway that would have given Clinton the win — and, presumably for other Dems whose futures increasingly depend on heavily populated zip codes — without changing the electoral college. No need for a run-off in this scenario, and pantsuits would be making a comeback!

Well, Minnesota legislators also considered this option. The idea failed 10-6 in committee.

Such a bill might conceivably be adopted in New York, California — even maybe Florida. But states with populations under 10 million are not so full of small-minded small-towners that they don’t realize throwing their electoral votes to a national outcome would be a very bad idea indeed.

 

 

 

President-elect Trump

Congratulations to President-elect Trump.

Six quick takeaways on WTF just happened.

1) most media will lack the guts to admit what a colossal stink emitted from their coverage and will try to wipe the blame on pollsters.

2) speaking of whom– I told you so. I see this constantly, as too many assumptions in polling questions, methodologies and modeling won’t match reality. The ‘new reality’ can probably be modeled into 2020 polling, if Trump runs for term 2, but 2024…..probably back to guessing.

3) the spectrum of people who voted against Clinton’s barbaric support of an absolute right of women to abort babies will emerge as a key reason for Mr Trump’s win, likely bigger than Obamacare. This is also something that media don’t like to discuss, as it is perversely and inaccurately dismissed as ‘anti-woman’s rights.’

4) arrogant elitists. I may be as stupid as a surprising number of HRC supporters have called me, but, really, calling me stupid does not mean they are any smarter. Another big reason for the HRC loss — pre-election gloating. And now, post-election pouting, at seminal centers of intellectual heft like the huffington post, with its headline, “Mourning in America”.

5) which brings us to social media being used for bad purposes, largely driven by monetized websites — and artful ‘redirection’ of taxpayer or ratepayer money (I’m thinking Amendment 1 in Florida — and also those rabid Planned Parenthood SOBs who stalked one of our instructors). I have some thoughts on how to fix this…

Really, I do! Serious, legitimate thoughts.

6) it is OK to rate men and women on a scale of 1 – 10. I mean, good grief….

Triple Match? By Who?

Every email inbox is deluged by requests, and often demands, for campaign contributions.

Many of them promise to MATCH, DOUBLE MATCH, or TRIPLE MATCH my contribution. Here are just three from today.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-31-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-57-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-09-13-pmSo: who, exactly, is making the “Match?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

I get the idea behind the match — I tell my kid that if he saves $100, I’ll give him $200 more. A good incentive!

But, this isn’t Dad teaching Junior how to be responsible. This is someone who wants my money telling me that someone I don’t know is promising big bucks to their candidate, if the candidate can squeeze out some greenbacks from folks like me.

cj9hjrhuyaeel-iWho is offering the match?  What does the “matcher” get for their big wad o’ dough? SHOW ME THE MONEY! TELL ME WHOSE MONEY IT IS! HOW MUCH WILL THEY MATCH?

Today’s FaceBook invite was, therefore, somewhat refreshing. Donald Trump Jr wants me (and everyone) to contribute — while specifically noting that his dad will match for up to $2 million!

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-20-43-pmThis is the first time I’ve ever read who is offering the match, and how much they’ll add.  No matter what else you may think about the candidates, amid the trashy stink of campaigning, this little whiff of clean air is refreshing.

 

 

Beware the Trees!

OK, let’s tell the truth. See the picture below, of the solar panels nestled amidst the trees? Bucolic as all heck.

The truth is: trees are the enemy of solar — and, I contend, of grass!trees The only thing green underneath those solar panels is the teeth of the winos and meth-heads comatose on the bare ground.

My house? No solar on it. Not just because it’s a hundred-year old historic home where I’m supposed to jump through hoops before even repairing a window. No. It’s because the trees block the sunlight so solar panels won’t work. And because these are big, tall, trees, on my neighbor’s land — I can’t cut them down! 

Sure, they provide shade and natural cooling — but they also mean no solar for me.

Evil trees. Pure evil. I could have those cool glass and steel boxes strewn all over my rooftop instead of shingles or shakes. But no.

Trees are confounding my energy independence.

And why do you suppose trees oppose solar energy? Why, for the same reason they are GLOBAL WARMING DENIERS! Because they are ADDICTED to sunlight, just as they are ADDICTED to CO2!

Oh, yes. They will do ANYTHING to get their fix of sun and CO2. Anything.

We’ve all seen trees twisted and turned, desperately reaching for more sun.

Disgusting.

And it gets worse. Why did Tallahassee languish without power for days after a storm with winds that barely exceeded a panting dog’s exhales?

Suicide trees. 

Despite the heroic efforts of the city administration, surely as nearly perfect an effort as we have ever seen, the trees just kept pulling themselves up by the roots, breaking off branches, splitting their trunks.

Trees don’t just want the sunlight and CO2. They want the soil and water, too. Global warming means more rain, more CO2, and shorter winters, all things that trees want.

eviltreesAnd if you’re a tree and you have all the sunlight, CO2 and water you can use, then what do you crave?

Fertilizer. And there’s 7 billion bags of it walking around the earth right now.

Believe me: trees are evil. They are out to GET YOU. If we’re EVER going to defeat the man-made CO2 monster — we must look the enemy in the leaf, fearlessly.

Hurricane Hermine & The Fix

Tallahassee, FL — state capital and university town (go ‘Noles!), is a fairly liberal city, with a Democratic slant. It’s also a city where a minor hurricane shut the whole place down for five days, from the evening of September 1 until Wednesday morning, September 7, when schools finally reopened.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-5-20-19-pmAbout 100,000 people lost power when Hurricane Hermine passed by.  Even as I write, several thousand residents are still without power.

Many Tallahasseans joke that this is a city where even a sneeze can cause lights to flicker. I suspect most people knew power outages would be widespread with Hermine. But most people also thought the City was better-prepared to fix what breaks.

Tallahassee is called the “City of Trees.” Decades ago, the City and its residents began a commitment to preserve as many of its beautiful trees as possible and as a result, Tallahassee is a very attractive Southern city, situated atop and nestled around a series of rolling hills, under a lovely green canopy.

BUT

What the City did not do over the past decades is either develop a plan to minimize the damage those big ‘ol trees could cause in a storm, or maximize the scale of the recovery effort. In other words, if you’re too cheap to put key utility lines under ground, or to harden the poles and lines, then you better have enough trained and equipped workers ready to tackle a major storm aftermath.

This should have been relatively easy to accomplish. Possibly because it is a “liberal” city, Tallahassee’s electric power is provided by its own municipal utility. The City therefore calls the shots when it comes to electric policy — a fact that could and should have been a strategic advantage (especially since Tally electric power is not cheap).

So why didn’t the City have in place a bona fide strategic plan that would preserve trees while protecting the power supply — especially since the last hurricane to hit the City happened some 30 years ago?

This is Florida, home of football Hurricanes and real life ones, too. A hurricane isn’t something that MIGHT happen. It is something that WILL happen.

I’m sure we’ll continue to hear bluster from City officials that they DO have a plan (apparently a secret one). But even if they do, it needs to be tossed.

It’s been reported that other power companies, notably FPL and Duke, offered to help restore power after the hurricane, but the City refused! At first, when challenged about this, the City claimed they turned away NO help. Later, they claimed they only turned away help they were unable to use effectively.

The way I read that, the City’s emergency restoration plan was woefully too small for the job.

We’ve also learned that many of the crews that were allowed to work had difficulty getting assigned, as confusion reigned among the “upper management” tiers.

I’m not very big on “upper management,” but it’s painfully clear “upper management” let down the workforce — and the public.

With all this as a frontispiece, here’s what new Mayor Gillum should have said as recovery efforts faltered:

“We need to do better. I am extremely angry that our city has failed to meet my expectations and those of all the people who call Tallahassee their home, and I promise you we will fix this.”

I would have cheered. But….He didn’t do that.

I suspect that as the revelations of poor planning and mismanagement continue to emerge — he’ll finally get there. When he does, here is what needs to happen.

Fixing the Problems

 

  1. Convene a task force — with a deadline to produce a series of recommendations. The task force should be comprised of managers from cities (counties, state agencies, utilities) with effective emergency plans. (Tampa comes to mind.)
  2. The recommendations must cover several key subjects:
    • Conduct a “forensic review” of what happened — where power went out, when and why.
    • Identify powerline “choke points” most susceptible to storm damage. Thomasville Road, a major tree-lined artery where wires are strung on wooden poles, comes to mind.
    • Identify fixed structures (relays and communications centers) that are inadequately protected, or simply inadequate.
    • Review the grid routing system — can power distribution be rerouted, either permanently or during an emergency, with fewer distruptions?
    • Grid maintenance and expansion. Are systems sufficiently redundant (backed up)?
    • Staffing and training. Are there enough supervisors to direct existing staff resources, as well as outside resources offering to help (so instead of being parked at a greyhound race track in nearby Monticello, waiting for permission to enter Tallahassee  that never came, crews from Duke Energy (or others) could be promptly and effectively put to work).
    • Command and control. It seems there wasn’t much.
    • Communication with the public — residences and businesses. This is likely the biggest complaint out there.
    • Material and resources. We’ve heard that not enough transformers, lines, and poles were on hand, for example.
    • Timing and priorities. Goals for restoration of power should be set, and priorities clearly stated. It’s not just power. Hospitals have back-up power, for example, but downed trees or lines mean ambulances can’t get there. And why was the Governor’s Square Mall a priority to repower, but not assisted living facilities?
    • Budgeting. How much should be committed to rebuild infrastructure to a better standard?
    • Resource pooling. More arrangements with others, whether it’s other utilities, tree/landscape services, waste management, or state agencies. (The latest rumor is that the city yard waste and garbage contractors are balking at picking everything up!)
    • Sharing information and plans with partners. The City claims it did not accept some help because it did not have sufficient staff to “embed” with the out-of-town crews. That problem could be reduced by sharing plans with partners beforehand. If I know where the switch is, I don’t necessarily need someone to take me to it.
  3. Have the recommendations reviewed by a citizen’s board. Try not to make this a stacked deck of sycophants, please, because the plan needs to pass “the giggle test”. Is it doable, or just a thick stack of paper? Is it going to cost an absurd amount? (One estimate claims $2 BILLION to put wires in the ground. That does not pass the giggle test.) Buy-in is a critical element for a successful plan.
  4. Implement the thing. Continuously test the communications system, and continuously train.
  5. Hire better people. And if the mayor doesn’t step up…. then elect a better mayor (and commission, too, while we’re at it).

Contrary to what some are saying, this is not a political issue. It is a governance issue, and the government did not do its job. Rather than deflect blame, they need to step up, identify the problems, and fix them.

The last hurricane to hit Tallahassee was Kate. It was a bigger, meaner storm, but power was actually restored faster 30 years ago than in 2016’s Hermine. Imagine how much more important the power grid is today than it was 30 years ago. And how much more important it will be in another 30 years.

Finger-pointing isn’t the answer.

This is.

Respectfully submitted September 8, 2016
by
Steven Webster, President

Pinellas County Manatee Rule

Pinellas County is on Tampa Bay, Florida. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is proposing a bunch of new manatee speed zones in Pinellas, with the goal of reducing the number of manatees struck and killed by boats. This concern first emerged in 2007. It took seven years for FWC staff even to distribute a set of draft rules. Seven years. Without spoiling the outcome (OK, we’re opposed to the new zones), readers need to realize that all this effort, put toward something that just plain is not needed, is due to one big problem: the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act were written decades ago, and are oftentimes — thisentimes — detrimental, even downright dangerous.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission has almost unlimited power to regulate boats. And because its power is unlimited, it is always fearful of being sued for not doing enough. (Yes, I even have that in writing from them!) In this case, the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service issued “comments” to the Army Corps, which issues permits for marina and dock construction. Based on the negative comments (in 2007), the Corps denied the permits. The comments kicked the ball downstairs to FWC to do something about it. So FWC — after seven years — is proposing more speed zones.

The trouble is — a lot has changed in seven years.

This piece was written on behalf of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways, a boating group whose membership includes a bunch of bonafide Cape Kennedy rocket scientists.

CFFW has repeatedly stated, where sound sciences leads, it will follow. The following four objections are firmly grounded in science:

1)       The original reason given to support the need for more zones in Pinellas County has been disproven.

A 2007 Biological Opinion from the Fish & Wildlife Service, which led to Army Corps denial of several Pinellas County permits applications, concluded that since the manatee population in Southwest Florida appeared to be declining, adding more boat slips in Pinellas would adversely impact the manatee. FWS’ Dave Hankla opined that until more speed zones were added, permits would not be issued.

That was seven and a half years ago.

Nothing was done until last year, 2014, when FWC staff advised Pinellas County to form a Local Rule Review Committee to consider more zones.

But, before the Commission convened the local rule review committee, new information released by FWS and the US Geological Survey showed that the Southwest manatee stock is NOT in decline. It’s growing rapidly. Indeed, manatees are growing rapidly in all four Florida stocks, and are being seen much more frequently beyond Florida, too.

The 2013 Runge, et. al. findings project a zero possibility of manatee extinction in 100 years, and show that boat mortality is – these are our words – so insignificant a threat that they are a distraction from what we should be doing to ensure a healthy and sustainable manatee population.

CFFW asked the US Geological Survey author, at a Manatee Forum meeting, if the improvements were because of better protection. He said, NO. It’s because of better data and methods, not better protection. Moreover, he said that if the current methods and data had been available in 2007, the results would have been positive back then, too.

Following the release of this new and better information, the appropriate conclusion should have been for FWS to issue a new Biological Opinion finding there would be no “adverse affect”. FWC’s plan to create more speed zones is an unnecessary and inappropriate action, given the new data showing the Southwest population is not in decline.

2)       FWC data is based on a flawed approach that ignores and violates the long-established Law of Large Numbers, a fundamental principle for research. In simple terms, FWC’s data plays fast and loose with statistics, using small numbers to generate dire-sounding percentage-based findings.

Jacob Bernoulli first described the LLN as so simple that even the stupidest man instinctively knows it is true (Ars Conjectandi: Usum & Applicationem Praecedentis Doctrinae in Civilibus, Moralibus & Oeconomicis, 1713, Chapter 4).

FWC attempted to show that watercraft mortality in Pinellas County – more specifically, Western Pinellas County – is rising at a faster rate than in other counties. However, the sample size – a handful of manatee mortalities – is so small that no trend can be established, and no comparison to other, larger, samples, can be made. FWC has not established a viable reason to implement more zones.

Science strongly cautions against the use of rates and percentages based on small numbers. The National Center for Health Statistics advises against the use of statistics based on a numerator of less than 20, which is consistent with standard CDC (Centers for Disease Control) practice. Moreover, it’s recommended that rates (percentages) be suppressed when using small numbers, to avoid the kind of statistical inflation that happens when a number increases from 1 to 2 (that’s 100%!). A good review of these issues is available for the Washington State Department of Health and from CDC.

FWC ‘s report authors never heard about the LLN, or ignored it.

3)       There is no good evidence to suggest more zones will be effective in reducing watercraft mortality, nor any evidence to support the premise that a reduction in watercraft is needed.

When speed zones are proposed, the result has always been the addition of new zones. As manatee population continues to grow (doubling every 12 years), more and more zones follow. Several years ago, CFFW, working with then-Executive Director Ken Haddad, asked FWC staff to develop a “black box” that would help inform decisions on where zones should be located – where they are most likely to have a positive effect. The result was the “fast overlap” maps used in Pinellas and elsewhere. (When this method was used to review changes in zones proposed by CFFW in 2004, and supported by a Brevard County resolution that was co-authored by CFFW and the manatee club, this rather primitive tool clearly showed that several Brevard zones were unnecessary; nonetheless, the zones remain in place.)

Haddad was dissatisfied with this new tool, as were we, given that it uses agglomerated data that seeks to put manatees and “fast boats” in proximity, but ignores both time and water depth. That is to say, the boat may have been in the area at 5AM, and the manatee at 6PM, yet the “dots” coincide. The manatee may be in deep water (and thus able, according to peer-reviewed studies, to dive safely beneath recreational watercraft), but the charts are only two-dimensional, ignoring depth.

We have recommended improvements to the model several times, but without success. The existing situation is that we have no goal for the new zones, other than a hope that more zones will somehow reduce watercraft-related mortality.

Moreover, the very process of selecting zones is at best part scientific, and part political. There is give and take.

In its review, the local rule review committee voted against some zones in channels. FWC staff’s proposal includes those zones in channels, including another half mile of the intracoastal.

Because FWC has not developed a reasonable tool for determining zone placement, and has not developed a means to evaluate the effectiveness of its zones, we are left with a question: what possible evidence is there that the proposed zones will reduce watercraft mortality? And, if the LRRC recommendation was allowed to stand – no zones in channels – how would that change the effectiveness of the zones? We don’t know, because FWC does not have the ability to tell us, other than to opine that more zones is always better (which, in itself, is often not true).

FWC and FWS admit they do not know if speed zones work, or what zones are most likely to reduce mortality. But, even if zones do work, what’s being demanded here in Pinellas County will reduce watercraft mortality by one per year at the most.

One.

At a minimum, FWC staff should abide by the LRRC determinations and not add more zones than the LRRC supported.

4)        Even if the Commission establishes more zones, there is no guarantee that any of the denied permits – or future permit applications – will be approved. CFFW has asked for that assurance, in writing. It has not been forthcoming.

In discussions with FWS, the issue seems to be that a “carte blanche” letter of support could open the gates for other applications that may not be advisable. This avoids the core issue: FWS should provide a letter listing those permits that will be released if the rule is approved; a list of those that may be approved; and a list of those that will not.

 

Summary

 

In conclusion: the original justification for these zones is disproven. We don’t know that these zones will be effective. Even if the potential decrease in mortality is achieved (one fewer death per year), the net benefit will have no effect on a manatee population that is doubling every 12 years already! And we have no assurance that permits will be released.

FWC should advise FWS that no additional zones are necessary, and that permits withheld now for more than seven years – seven years – should be released.

Oysters are Habitat-Forming

Credits to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for the headline. It was spotted on a sign in Charleston Harbor, pointing out a local oyster restoration project.

Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.
Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.

The importance of oysters as more than a mouth-watering delight is sparking  renewed interest in the bivalve. Oysters filter and clean vast amounts of water. Put them in a tank of typical Florida estuary (near shore) water, wait a day, and the water will be clean. Move oysters from dirty water to clean water, and in two weeks, they are completely safe to eat (a very neat trick; tainted nutrients we eat tend to stay in us a long time, even forever. Not the oyster. What goes in, really does come back out).

Oyster bars — the kind in the water, not the Amen Street bar in Charleston — are hugely significant environmentally, doing everything from blunting the force of bad weather and providing food and shelter to other marine critters, to capturing CO2. That’s right, even “climate change” is aided and abetted by the oyster, which removes CO2 from the water and turns it into calcium carbonate — literally the oyster shell.

Not surprisingly, for a long time, we have done not been doing right by oysters. New York Harbor, for example, used to be almost brimful of them. Apalachicola Bay in Florida, one of the most southerly oyster harvest sites, has been suffering for years, as far-upstream Atlanta siphons off more and more of the freshwater oysters need to thrive.

While it’s certainly true that a desire to make a buck from oysters was at the root of the significant declines we’ve been seeing in oyster production, it’s equally true that the decline could not have happened without the help (or hindrance) of government. Pretty much everyplace you care to look where oysters have suffered, government has permitted the problem, usually with the best of intentions, but oftentimes not.

oysterrelay
Oystermen working an oyster “relay,” where oysters are moved from conditionally closed areas to open water where they can be harvested in a few weeks. Relays can be good employment when many oysterbeds are seasonally closed.

Now we’re in a time when rebuilding oysters is the marine ’cause du jour’. Lots of proposals are seeking funding — including one of ours — and many groups, from the Ocean Conservancy to the Nature Conservancy to SeaGrant, are urging action to restore oysters. In September, the US Department of Commerce finally declared a “fisheries disaster” for Florida panhandle oysters, largely in response to the collapse of oystering in Apalachicola Bay, which was already hurt by reduced water flow and then hammered by the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

But — there’s hardly any funding yet for any of the proposed projects. The bit that’s been made available, through the National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA, a Federal-state program that funds restoration of resources damaged by oil spills and the like), has yet to be spent. Three years into what’s called “early restoration,” and nothing’s happened so far.

Eventually, funds will flow and some improvements will be made. Unfortunately, for too many of the men and women who have been struggling to make ends meet in the oyster industry, too little will come too late.

We’re trying to help speed things up. Wish us — and the people whose livelihoods depend on it — luck.

Deepwater Horizon Bust or Boom?

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010 was a shocking disaster resulting in a tragic loss of lives.

But, if there had been no deaths, it would be easier for us to look at the oil spill another way: It could be a bonanza for people along the Gulf struggling through a sour economy. Or, it could be a bust, a repeat of the stimulus fiasco.

In the immediate aftermath of the oil spill, thousands of people — many of them already laid off in the Great Recession — were put to work in one of the biggest public works projects since the Great Depression, setting boom, skimming oil, cleaning beaches.

kenafcrew-150x150
MW Consulting’s crew demonstrated boom made from natural, oil-absorbing kenaf.

Everyone living along the Gulf Coast knew someone — or were themselves — involved in the clean-up. MW Consulting was itself involved. We convinced Florida’s DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) to put out a call to inventors and builders to demonstrate restoration products. More than twenty groups from around the world participated, on an oil-soaked stretch of Pensacola Beach, FL.

Most of the people who worked in the clean-up, especially those involved in the “Vessels of Opportunity” program — privately owned boats hired by BP (British Petroleum) for inshore and offshore work — loved the money but were disdainful of the actual work.

Repeatedly, “it’s being done for the cameras” was heard. Members of land crews also raised issues, the most common being that oil wasn’t being removed from shores and beaches: it was being buried.

Despite the negativity, most everyone was grateful for the work — and the money. No one knows for sure how much was spent, but it was in the billions.

Now: round 2. The money from fines that will flow into the Gulf States will be at least $5 billion, and perhaps as much as $20 billion. In addition to fines, there will be lawsuit money, someday. Even at the low end ($5 billion), that works out to about $25 per gallon in fines for each gallon spilt (about 5 million barrels, or 200 million gallons).

In short, a lot of money, with 80% of it going to the affected states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida).

In Florida, every Gulf Coast county is guaranteed some part of what the state receives.

What will they spend it on? MW Consulting is working with various counties on their project lists, which then go into a state consortium plan, which then goes to a Federal council. As there is no deadline to spend it all — and no real timeline on when the greenbacks will start flowing — this will be a story for years to come.

What we hope is that this opportunity isn’t botched the way the stimulus program was. We had predicted from the start of stimulus that governments were not capable of efficiently spending vast sums of money quickly, and indeed they were not. The Inspector General for Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which last year assumed control of the state’s foundering Energy Office, has just concluded exactly that (click here to link to a press release and copy of their audit).

A related question is whether or not the oil well has actually been contained. Reports of significant seepage and still-uncollected spillage continue.

Our goal is to help our clients manage their way through what will be a challenging process, resulting in projects that create and retain jobs, and that are worth doing. We will do our part to ensure the goals are met!

Primaries? Who Needs ‘Em?

Why did a political party’s choices for candidates for office become a government-run process? In short, why must we have primaries?

Most readers will conjure up images of smoke-filled rooms where sacks of money are exchanged for slots on a party’s slate of candidates, and conclude that’s a bad way of running a country. If every party did that, we’d end up with a bunch of scalawags and worse on the election ballot every time.

Or would we? Refer to other articles here for the mantra:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.

Have government-run primaries improved the quality of candidates and officeholders? Or does the “smoke-filled rooms” scenario simply take place much earlier, followed by the long, tortuous, ridiculously expensive primary season?

Who really benefits from primaries anyway? Certainly not candidates who, egged on by media, tear into each other so vigorously and viciously that almost no one casts a ballot without a bad taste in the mouth. Certainly not we voters, whose choices are limited to the folks willing to hustle for the kind of bucks needed to buy the advertising to — well, to buy the election.

Here in Florida, even a State House district race — where the winner brings home about $30,000 a year — costs a quarter million to stand a chance.

Perhaps that’s why this article is on a website not supported by advertising. Whether primaries are a good thing or not, the news and advertising industries sure aren’t going to endorse a different nominating process.

What could that process be? For starters, parties should have the option of participating in a primary or not. If they prefer to gather in a smoke-filled room — or a vegan resort, whatever — to select their candidates, fine. As long as they qualify for the ballot, life is good.

For parties that want the added exposure, as negative as that always seems to be — sure, stay in the primary process. But if there is one law for all primaries that ought to be  created, let’s allow  independent voters (not registered with a particular party) to vote in the party primary of their choice.

This path would likely (hopefully) improve the process in three ways:

For parties that opt out of primaries, the cost to run would be much less, which hopefully would mean more (and more qualified) candidates would seek office.

For parties that stay in the primary, independent voters would almost certainly moderate the views of the winner. This means the kowtowing to a party’s “core” that goes on during primaries, which is then replaced with strained explanations of how Ms Candidate is not really in favor of government financed abortions for all illegals (ooops, undocumented workers), while Mr Candidate wants antennae implanted in everyone’s heads only after they’re arrested — well, it probably won’t go away, but there should be less of it.

For parties that just plain really want the a candidate on the ballot because of that abortion  / antennae thing, they can opt out of the primary to ensure the candidate with their views is on the ballot.

The downsides? The one we’ll hear most is that the public won’t have as much time to “assess” candidates. Maybe there’s substance to that, but given the big story in late July — did someone on Romney’s staff use the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ — c’mon already.

Of course, New Hampshire will still have its primary in January and Iowa will still hold its caucuses months before any of us should be seriously thinking about this stuff. And, except for the early date, they probably should. But any large state like California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois, would do well to reconsider.