Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

River Arose, Mayor Sank to Prove It

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

River Arose, Mayor Sank to Prove It

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

Several hundred people gathered on a barge for what Mayor John Peyton called a "special day" in the history of the St. Johns River.

There were politicians, past and present. There was music and speeches and an unplanned appearance by some dolphins.

Not bad, as news conferences go. But there was no mayoral water-skiing, just a nod to a predecessor and another steamy day, 29 summers ago.

"Hans Tanzler could not be here this morning," Peyton told the crowd. "We will miss him. We are not going to have a re-enactment of the ski show."

Tanzler, the city's mayor from 1968 to 1979, was invited to attend. He's spending some time in the mountains in northern Georgia. I called him Wednesday to ask about the river, his role in cleaning it up and, of course, his water-skiing.

Tanzler, 79, began by talking about growing up in Riverside, wading into the water and catching bass. "There were some magnificent, huge grass beds where you could have yourself a ball."

There also was raw sewage. Lots of it. It's hard to fathom today but once upon a time most of the city's toilets flushed into huge pipes that poured into the river. By 1968, there were 77 "outfalls," dumping a combined 18 million gallons of untreated sewage into the river every day.

The theory for decades - the solution to pollution is dilution - was being disproved every day. The grass beds were disappearing. And you didn't need any environmental expertise to see the river was a mess. You just needed eyes. And maybe a nose.

So Tanzler's first order of business as the city's first mayor after consolidation was the river. About 150 miles of pipe diverted raw sewage to treatment plants. It cost $153.3 million and took seven years, but in 1977 the city closed the last of the outfalls.

Mike Tolbert, an aide to Tanzler, recalls the mayor coming into his office one day and saying: "We're going to close the last outfall this summer, so be thinking about a press release. …

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