Viewpoint: Grover on improving environment

A viewpoint by Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson:

It’s 8:15 a.m. on the Saturday before Christmas at the Bayou Texar boat launch at the foot of the Cervantes Bridge. My feet are actually warmed by the chilly water of the bayou relative to the 41 degree temperature of the air. I am just about to push off for a paddle with Robert Turpin from Escambia County Marine Resources and Chris Wagley, environmentalist member of the RESTORE Advisory Committee, for an interesting evaluation of what long-term goals can do.

As we pass under the Cervantes Bridge, the serene natural beauty of the mouth of Bayou Texar is interrupted by Christmas shoppers in their cars above. It is hard to believe in some ways that this estuary is so urban in its surrounding development.

As we enter the waterway mouth, it is easy to forget the setting as we are greeted by a kingfisher, osprey and a pelican all flying for their morning breakfast. Unfortunately, the cold has pushed some of the fish into deeper recesses for warmer temperatures. However, we do see a couple of shadows moving, which is probably a mullet or a redfish under the surface.

While it is always exciting to see all the fauna, both marine and terrestrial, our paddle today is to view another inhabitant of the Bayou which really demonstrates the environmental progress that has been made. Within sight of the Bayou Texar Bridge, we began to see our first patches of sea grass which we have come to evaluate. For the past two years, I have personally witnessed the growth from almost nothing to some significant patches of Halodule and Ruppia growing in the mouth of the bayou.

Historically, this is not a new thing, but we need to rewind only a few years to see the environmental damage and degradation that has occurred in Bayou Texar over the last 50 years. As a child of the 1970s, I swam, skied and sailed in Bayou Texar often despite what was probably then one of the most contaminated waterways in our area. It was not unusual to have massive fish kills, which made the entire east end of Pensacola smell like a rotting fish. In addition, you could not see two inches into the black silty and mucky waterway where touch was your only sensory of what lied beneath. In fact, if you ever felt the bottom of Bayou Texar ooze between your toes, it was a feeling you’d never forget. Still it is amazing that in only 30 years, I am paddling today with great visibility and in fact seen significant patches of sea grass.

This achievement, however, does not happen overnight and does not happen without concerted efforts to meet goals. While the city and its current elected officials continue to show good environmental stewardship for this body of water, improvement was set in motion long before a strong mayor or even an elected mayor was established. Years ago, objectives and goals were set forward by our city council. Eventually, projects were implemented to accomplish the goals, and today, we are just beginning to see the benefits.

The reason I bring this up is simply to demonstrate the importance of goals and objectives, especially as we begin our process with RESTORE monies. As an Escambia County commissioner, I am hopeful that the same transformation will continue to occur in Bayou Texar, but also in other estuaries, such as Bayou Chico and Pensacola Bay.

There is no doubt that as I sit now with my children, I am hopeful that they may live to enjoy the environmental improvement in our community. Just last year on New Year’s Day, I saw the first dolphin of my life time in the bayou, a nearly daily occurrence according to my grandmother. What changes will my grandchildren see in the years to come? If we stay focused on obtaining community objectives, I am fully confident they will see dramatic environmental and economic restoration for our county.

Grover C. Robinson, IV