Manatee County declares red tide state of emergency

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Manatee County declared a local state of emergency as red tide continues to destroy tourism and wildlife along the southern part of Florida's gulf coast. 

County leaders held an emergency meeting Tuesday morning to respond to the crisis, which is costing the county a lot of money in tourism revenue and cleanup.

Manatee County residents have experienced red tide before but not like this. Bradenton Resident Stuart Smith said the smell of red tide, along with the tons of dead fish, is strong enough to make you gag.

“I was standing on the other side of the waterway, the smell so strong we had to move over here,” Smith said.

The county says it's a situation that has risen to the level of an emergency. The fish kills have grown to a level that is forcing people from their homes.

County commissioners met Tuesday morning and were briefed on what's being called a public health emergency.

On man told commissioners it's gotten so bad, people are leaving.

“We've had people move out! We can’t even get people to move here anymore.”

The county approved a measure to pay half-a-million dollars to a private contractor to remove an estimated 120 tons of dead fish from beaches and other waterways, though there was some resistance.

There was a short debate on whether to only clean the beaches and letting mother nature take care of the rest, but commissioners ultimately decided the massive cleanup effort has to be done.

“This is a level that no private homeowner or even home owner’s association can tackle on their own,” Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “It takes a level from the industries that are out there to picking up fish like this.”

Manatee County will pay the contractor $250,000 a week until red tide stops leaving dead marine life on its shores.

The county is applying for an emergency DEP grant to hopefully offset the high cost.