St. Pete looking for sea grass farmers

- The city of St. Petersburg went looking for a sea grass farmer, and five different entities filled out an application. 

The response validates a notion city council member Jim Kennedy nurtured for about three years.

"If somebody's going to be interfering with sea grass, they'll need a mitigation bank," Kennedy explained to FOX 13 News, "The first bank could generate maybe up to $20 million."

The business concept hinges on Florida laws requiring amends for environmental impacts caused by development projects, including building bridge, dredging ports and shipping channels. The city proposed filling in old dredge holes off North Shore Park and planting about 125 acres of sea grass.

The resulting sea grass farm could be divided into environmental credits.
"Somebody can come to the banker and say Hey, we've got X amount of impacts, we're going to need to use X amount of your credits- and how much can we purchase those for?" assistant city attorney Michael Dema said. 

The entire process is regulated by federal and state agencies.

"There will be a lot of agencies with jurisdiction over a banking project" Dema said, "At the top of the food chain, so to speak, is the United States Army Corps of Engineers, but we anticipate working with the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection?) and the SWIFTMUD (Southwest Florida Water Management District?) and other local agencies as well."

A long time ago, the state deeded the shallow waters near St. Petersburg's eastern shoreline to the city, essentially from Coffee Pot Bayou to Lassing Park. 

While the initial sea grass bank would be 125 acres, "We have maybe up to a thousand acres if we carry it all the way down" Kennedy said. 

It would take years to get the first bank planted; the grass must be durable. Kennedy said the initial revenue stream would be used to create a trust fund. 

"If somebody runs aground in your sea grass or you have something that kills the sea grass, it would be our obligation to replant and re-nourish," he said.

Once the trust account is funded, the revenue stream would flow into the city's coffers. The new sea grass would serve its natural purposes, including providing habitat for juvenile fish. 

"The long term benefit to the bay is substantial, and potentially the economic benefit to the city is substantial," Kennedy said. 

Kennedy and Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration hopes to present the concept to the rest of the city council at its May 5 meeting.

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