By Suzanne Cooper
On September 12, 1961, St. Petersburg Mayor Herman Goldner made a bold statement to his peers throughout the Tampa Bay area, declaring that “It is time for us to plan together on a regional basis.” He challenged a group of elected officials from Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota and St. Petersburg to begin an ongoing dialogue. Through these deliberative efforts and discussions, the first regional planning council in Florida was formed and aptly named the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. What started as a luncheon was actually a clarion call to action focused on building a better plan for our future in an organized, coherent and regional fashion.
Prophetically, the St. Petersburg Times, in February, 11, 1962 published a commentary:
“…it is sometimes hard to look 50 years ahead. Those old enough to look 50 years back can testify that tempus fugit (time flies) far more rapidly than is realized and there is nothing unrealistic in starting now to get ready for needs of the 21st century. By that time, there will undoubtedly be several million people clustered around Tampa Bay. How well and comfortably they can live depend upon how wisely we can act now. Many of us won’t be around to enjoy the fruits of this foresight but our children and grandchildren will be. Besides, by 1970 or 1975… we are going to find an already shapeless megalopolis far less pleasant for living than it should be.”
The council has provided local, statewide and national leadership over the past 50 years, in the areas of mass transit, comprehensive planning, growth management and development review, hurricane evacuation, hazardous materials management, regional economic modeling, catastrophic and post-disaster economic planning, sustainability, statewide energy resiliency, and more. (For a more complete history of the council’s accomplishments, visit www.tbrpc.org/events/pdf/TBRPC_50th_Anniv_program.pdf)
Focused on Tampa Bay and the Region’s Natural Resources
TBRPC also has been a leader in protecting the region’s natural resources, including the Tampa Bay estuary. A search through its Regional Information Center revealed a large number of pertinent publications which paved the way for the regulations, monitoring and management programs that have helped Tampa Bay earn national recognition for its successes in estuarine restoration. By identifying adverse impacts and potential impacts early, various regulatory and management agencies have been able to effectively target implementation strategies. Just some of the significant studies, reports and actions where the council has spearheaded the effort include:
- 1973: Courtney Campbell Causeway Flushing Study
- 1976: Evaluation of the Effects of Urban and Industrial Stormwater on Water Quality in the Tampa Bay Region
- 1978: Stormwater and Lake Systems Maintenance and Design Guidelines
- 1978: Areawide Water Quality Management Plan, which identified “procedures for implementing effective water quality control and improvement programs” and included “a delineation of priority actions to be taken to prevent and control water pollution problems.”
- 1981: Tri-County Areawide Environmental Impact Statement, which evaluated the cumulative impacts of residential development in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties
- 1982: Ground Water Protection Plan for the Tampa Bay Region
- 1984: Reservoir Protection Implementation Measures for the Tampa Bay Region
- 1984: Tampa Bay Regional Marina Siting Study
By 1985, it had become clear that a regional approach to protecting and restoring Tampa Bay would be important. The Agency on Bay Management was formed as the result of a special legislative act to examine the opportunities for — and the constraints against — developing a unified, comprehensive management strategy for Tampa Bay. The agency was to provide a comprehensive approach to management of the bay’s resources.
ABM has provided a forum for discussing and reviewing many issues that could or would affect the estuary, including the desalination facility, surface water withdrawal for potable use, degradation of Clam Bayou, and land development plans in sensitive areas. The agency has participated in various legislation aimed at protecting and restoring a healthy ecological balance to the bay. Legislative efforts included:
- Mandatory improvements to municipal wastewater treatment levels to reduce nutrient discharge to Tampa Bay.
- Developing and spearheading passage of legislation to create the Surface Water Improvement and Management program (SWIM) which is administered by the Southwest Water Management District and has, to date, completed 79 habitat restoration projects totaling 2,700 acres and improved stormwater treatment for more than 50,000 acres in the Tampa Bay watershed alone.
- Federal designation of Tampa Bay as a National Estuary Program recognizing the bay’s national importance.
- Laws governing commercial netting of fish and food shrimping in Tampa Bay.
- ABM also spearheaded multiple research studies forums that have helped make ecosystems in Tampa Bay among the best-understood in the nation:
- 1986: including Ecological Assessment, Classification and Management of Tampa Bay Tidal Creeks
- 1986: Water Quality Studies of the Anclote and Braden Rivers
- 1991: Convened the Tampa Bay Area Scientific Information Symposium 2 – The Watershed
- 1993: Implications and Management of Sea Level Rise in the Sarasota Bay Region
- 1996: Co-convened Tampa BASIS 3 – Applying our Knowledge
- 2003: Co-convened Tampa BASIS 4 – Linking Science and Management
- 2009: Co-convened Tampa BASIS 5 – Using Our Knowledge to Shape Our Future
Community outreach and education also have been important goals for ABM. Working with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, it secured 10,000 signatures for the Tampa Bay estuary’s own specialty license tag. The “Tarpon Tag,” designed by Russ Sirmons, has generated over $1.3 million for restoration and education projects in the watershed to-date. Funding from the Tarpon Tag has supported the publication of Bay Soundings since its first issue in April 2002.
TBRPC is fully committed to ensuring that Tampa Bay and the region’s natural resources are maintained for the future. The Agency on Bay Management brings together representatives of recreational and commercial fisheries, industrial, regulatory, academic and scientific sectors, local, regional, state and federal governments, and legislators. It continues to serve as a broad-based forum for open discussion of the myriad issues involving the estuary, and as a voice for protection, restoration and wise use of the bay by the entire region. For more information, visit www.tbrpc.org/abm/
Suzanne Cooper, AICP, is a principal planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and staff to the Agency on Bay Management.
Originally published Spring 2012