Tensions between Councilwoman Sherri Myers and Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson are boiling over after Robinson sent a memo blasting Myers for proposing a last-minute agenda item over Carpenter Creek.
Myers wanted the council to formally ask the Florida Department of Transportation what its plan was for replacing trees removed as part of a creek bank repair project on Carpenter Creek at the Davis Highway bridge over the creek.
As part of the background for that request, Myers blamed the creek bank collapse on a stormwater vault she believes was improperly engineered.
Robinson, who was not able to attend the council meeting Thursday, sent a memo to the council objecting to the request.
"…(Myers) has chosen to pursue a reckless path based on deliberate misrepresentation that does not focus on any solution but simply her ambition to rant," Robinson wrote in the memo.
The city installed a stormwater vault at Davis Highway in 2019. The vault is a large piece of stormwater infrastructure that is designed to filter out sediments and pollution from stormwater runoff and improve the water quality of the creek.
However, Myers and other environmental advocates say once the city installed the stormwater vault, the bank at the opposite end of the vault's outflow began to collapse. Myers said she documented that a large part of the bank had collapsed by Aug. 9, 2020, before Hurricane Sally.
The erosion eventually made it to the parking lot of the Waterford at Carpenter's Creek nursing home.
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The part of the parking lot being affected is legally owned by FDOT and the department began a project to restore the bank and protect it from future erosion. The initial plans from FDOT caused an outcry from environmental advocates as they said it would only add to the degradation of the creek, just as Escambia County is working on a RESTORE Act-funded master plan to restore the creek's ecosystem.
Barbara Albrecht, director of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and president of the Bream Fishermen Association, led an effort that eventually resulted in an April 4 meeting with the county, city, engineers and designers on the county's project and officials from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
While FDOT officials did not attend the meeting, the department altered its plans to be less impactful.
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Severe erosion from that portion of the creek has been going on for years, working its way from the south to the north. Experts from Wood, the environmental infrastructure company that is leading the county's restoration efforts, said the erosion is being caused by too much water entering the creek too fast. Hardening projects have occurred up and down the creek, which protect that spot along the creek but make erosion worse for other areas.
Robinson points out that although the overdevelopment of the area is causing the erosion, it has been occurring for several decades and is not because of one specific project.
Albrecht and Myers believe the stormwater vault sped up the erosion that was already underway at that location and say it may otherwise have taken years to get to the point the bank did in just a year.
When the project to restore the eroded section of the creek bank began, a large amount of red clay was dumped on the site with negligible protection to prevent it from being washed into the creek. FDEP sent FDOT a warning letter on May 4 about the red clay and the clay has been completely covered to prevent runoff.
As part of that project, the last few remaining trees along that part of the creek bank were removed, which was the subject of Myer's request on Thursday.
Robinson's ire at Myers was focused on what he believes is a misrepresentation of what caused the erosion in the backup of Myer's action item. He said a better solution would be to work with the FDEP on any restoration work.
"If Councilwoman Myers was a quarter as successful in solutions as rants, she would know that environmental restoration is not FDOT's strong suit," Robinson wrote in the memo. "Yet she is angling to take the city council down this unproductive path with the add-on action item."
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Myers responded to the mayor's memo by pulling her action item and informing the council that at the May 26 meeting, she was going to ask the council to exercise its investigation powers under the city charter to determine how the stormwater vault got installed and what, if anything, the city knew about the erosion problems when it was installed.
Speaking at his weekly press conference Monday, Robinson said Myers was misguided and said his main focus remains on finding a solution and restoring the Carpenter Creek ecosystem.
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"I could care less about the politics of what happens," Robinson said. "I think if we can remove politics from city government, we typically get better services and better things for all of us."
Robinson then distributed copies of his Thursday memo to the council to the members of the press in the room.
Robinson became angry when asked about Myers' efforts to get information about the project in 2020 from then-City Administrator Keith Wilkins. He said Myers never came to him to talk about the issue.
"She potentially and deliberately tried to bypass (me) and deal with it because she didn't want to talk to me about it," Robinson said.
Robinson said he wants the city to hire Wood, the environmental infrastructure company leading the county's restoration efforts, to look more deeply at the issue.
Robinson, adding new context about the history of the project, said FDOT was involved in the setup of this stormwater vault and requested the entire flow of the creek be routed through the system.
"In putting the Vortechs Vault that we placed in there, the state had some things they wanted us to do," Robinson said. "And again one of those things in placing where the outfall flows from it ... allowing also the creek to divert and go through (the stormwater vault). DOT really tried to protect their own infrastructure, and we totally understand why they're protecting their own infrastructure."
When asked to clarify his comments about the diversion of the creek through the stormwater vault, Robison said he wasn't sure, but said all of the engineering work on the project went through FDOT.
"That was all done through them," Robinson said.
Meanwhile, any hopes that Robinson had about politics not playing a role in the situation appear to have been killed by the memo.
Myers told the News Journal on Thursday that she would be pushing for an investigation and also would be getting T-shirts made that say "Rant on."
"People need to make it pollical," Myers said. "… This issue is too important for people to be quiet and not ask questions."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Carpenter Creek restoration project flares tempers at Pensacola city hall