Delaney Calls Summit to Help Cure River's Ills

Article excerpt

Hoping to leverage state money for the ailing St. Johns

River, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney yesterday called an

autumn summit to plan remedies for the river's decline.

"I think we can come up with a plan to restore the river to

its original splendor," Delaney told politicians and activists

who saw dolphins and a manatee -- as well as algae-choked grass

beds and polluted, lifeless riverbottom -- during a 2 1/2-hour

river tour.

Two hundred to 300 people, from environmentalists to

industrialists, are expected to join the Nov. 25 meeting, which

will be open to the public.

The mayor and other summit organizers, including state Rep.

John Thrasher, plan to use a report from the summit as a

platform to seek state money for river projects during the 1998

legislative session.

"It's certainly too important an asset for us to sit by and

watch the river deteriorate, which is what's happening," said

City Council President Jim Overton, another leading player in

the summit.

Yesterday, city and state scientists told VIPs on a nine-boat

flotilla the St. Johns suffers from increasing levels of

chemical nutrients. Algae feeding on the chemicals, mostly

nitrogen, can block light that's needed by underwater grass beds

where fish feed.

High nutrient levels also have been linked to outbreaks in

other states of a flesh-eating micro-organism, Pfiesteria

piscicida, suspected of causing both large fish kills and

lesions on some people exposed to contaminated water. Scientists

said last week they discovered a previously unknown organism,

similar to Pfiesteria, in the St. Johns, but don't know whether

it's dangerous to fish or people. Fish with open sores typical

of Pfiesteria have been discovered in the river this year.

Parts of the river also have high levels of lead, industrial

waste and chemicals from car exhausts.

Evidence of a problem "seems to be going up now," said Ernest

Frey, regional director of the Florida Department of

Environmental Protection. …