Under the surface at Warm Mineral Springs

Warm Mineral Springs located in North Port. Photos courtesy of scgov.net.

Warm Mineral Springs located in North Port. Photos courtesy of scgov.net.

Ignoring the reality and the truth

By Juliette Jones, PhD
FriendsofWarmMineralSprings @ gmail.com

Many people care about the preservation and future of Warm Mineral Springs as a “natural wonder” but wonder what is going on, and are eager to get the springs re-opened so that their neighborhood rentals can once again turn a profit; or would just like to get back into the waters, relax and enjoy life. You can’t really blame anyone for their viewpoints. After all people moved here, or visit here to enjoy nature and the gift of the once healing waters; not to fight political battles with Sarasota county on behalf of environmental causes. But for those who are awake, and who care for the life of WMS itself, the times call for a deeper participation.

There is a crisis looming over our modern culture which is now perfectly reflected upon the deep waters of Warm Mineral Springs. The struggle over this environmental microcosm speaks to a struggle which is global. It is taking place in Africa where the Tanzanian government land grab could spell the end of the Maasai tribe and the great Serengeti plain; it is taking place in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest which can and does endanger the very air we breathe; it is taking place in the massive pollution of the oceans worldwide, and locally right off the Florida coast in the Gulf dead zone, which as of 2013 is larger than it has ever been before — larger than the state of Connecticut. The earth and the waters of the planet from which we take our very life are being overcome and degraded by human indifference, manipulation of resources and destruction of the natural environment, and the same thing is taking place at Warm Mineral Springs. People will inevitably develop a real interest in such eventualities…but perhaps too late. There is a tendency to feel helpless in the face of such an overwhelming struggle. But the feeling of helplessness is part of the problem. We each need to find an effective way to make a difference, and apply ourselves to the challenge. The times are full of unprecedented change and its time for a heads-up, and a call to self-empowerment. If Warm Mineral Springs has ever given you health, joy or profit; it’s time to take a really good look at things in North Port and Sarasota county politics. Take stock of your relationship to WMS, and of what is actually happening; then put together your course of action. A small group of dedicated people can make a difference, but it is crucial to really face and understand the serious problems that are facing this spring and do something effective, or one day very soon we will find that Warm Mineral Springs will no longer exist in the ways you have come to know it. In point of fact, changes have already taken place — terrible changes that are significant, and need to be reversed if at all possible.

Arial view of Warm Mineral Springs located in North Port. Photo courtesy of scgov.net.

After the Expensive Field Trip…the Suppression Begins…
After the city and county purchased Warm Mineral Springs in 2010, they spent your tax dollars to go on a junket. The purported reason for this trip was to develop a plan — economic, and ecological — to apply to Warm Mineral Springs. “Four staff members, two from Sarasota County and two from the city of North Port, had the opportunity to go to Hot Springs Arkansas to research the operations and inner workings of spas and springs located in Hot Springs National Park. While meeting with the National Park Service it became quite evident that the National Park Service (NPS) has spent much time studying the geology and hydrology of the 47 springs under their purview. NPS worked with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to study and understand precisely the location, source(s), amount of water
flowing, amount collected, amount discharged, temperature and chemical analysis of the water produced. They continually test and retest the commodity. NPS staff also indicated that for many years, they had made incorrect assumptions about the geothermal water source and flow of Hot Springs. They stressed the importance of fully understand our resources before decisions are made that could impact the  srings forever…When staff returned  they immediately contacted the USGS. The Tampa office provided a scope of work that had been prepared several years ago but had not been funded or initiated….Performing the work identified in the scope would provide further information for fully understanding the springs…” Project Update by Daniel Schult, NP Asst. City Mgr. July 2012

Warm Mineral Springs located in North Port. Photos courtesy of scgov.net.

Warm Mineral Springs located in North Port. Photos courtesy of scgov.net.

What Happened Next…
Almost nothing! Carolyn Brown, General Manager of Parks and Recreation ogled that “the trip was outstanding.” The county had their staff take a few measurements which determined that the flow rate was significantly reduced from the early eighties — a danger sign to the life of a spring (environmentalist Jono Miller has spoken to the county  about this and written articles published in the Herald.) All of this fell on deaf ears, and despite “what they had learned” on their expensive Hot Springs Junket; despite the fact that they had purchased their share of the springs with Parkland Funds (which are earmarked for protection and preservation of lands — not development); despite  the danger signals which are apparent to those who have used the springs over time and observed the rapid changes in the environment — Sarasota County Commissioners continue to ignore their obligation as public stewards to preserve and protect WMS and instead press a development agenda.

Sad Changes
Last Easter after deliberately avoiding the springs for about six months, I celebrated the day by returning to the waters, afterward I wrote an article about the transformations I’ve seen in the spring over the past several years. I was deeply saddened to find that many features of the water had changed distinctively in six short months. We have reached a tipping point. Not only is the temperature cooler, but the water no longer has the characteristic “silky” feel that was once so pervasive. That “silky feel” was a sign of the alkalinity, which years ago was measured at 7.1 ph in a state report. The alkalinity of the water was an important aspect of the healing quality of the water. Nor was there  characteristic “cloudiness in the water” at the height of the day which is normally a function of calcium coming out of solution after hours of bright sunlight. As I made my way to shore, I noticed that I didn’t have the same physical “heaviness” and feeling of relaxation which was ALWAYS inevitable after a long soak. The scent of sulfur was  almost absent on my clothing or body which used to be very strong and last for hours. I ‘ve lived next to the spring for a decade and up until a short time ago, the scent was very pervasive even in the air, every day. The sulfur content was also one of the therapeutic benefits of the water. Now it is greatly reduced. I was absolutely stunned by these observations. In a short six months Warm Mineral Springs had radically declined in potency. These things have been happening gradually, and that’s why many people, especially newcomers, have failed to notice. Over the last few years, since the time Cypress Lending took over the property, I had seen other distressing signs appear gradually. It began as a disappearance of the algae in the water. Over time the little fishes that lived on the surface of the water began to disappear and there were reports of dead turtles. The water bird population which was always pervasive dropped to almost nothing. Why hasn’t Sarasota County noticed these changes which are also key signs to the impending distress of a spring’s environment? They are deliberately ignoring the reality and the truth of the changes happening at this spring.

There were many rumors that the Cypress management had been “doing something” to the spring after hours. People had seen workers pouring materials into the water. Employees were told to keep quiet. Now there is hard evidence of what was “done to it” over the past few years. When (under the authority of the Sunshine statutes ) I found notes from a meeting that took place between the Operator (Gene Vaccaro), Carolyn Brown (again Parks and Recreation Manager and responsible for the property) and other Sarasota county Parks and Recreation Department employees in April of 2012. These notes reflect that Vacarro admitted he had been adding algaecide to the springs monthly. He didn’t know the brand, nor the chemistry involved. It was his opinion that he would attract more spa customers if there was no  algae floating in the waters. Further research showed he obtained a routine permit from the DEP to add a substance called Green Clean Pro to WMS, which as it turns out is not tested, nor recommended for salt or mineral waters. It can kill aquatic animals, land animals and must be applied extremely carefully by a professional.

In studying further the challenges that are upon Florida springs in general, I have come to understand that certain destructive species of algae do proliferate in certain springs due to the presence of pollution and toxicity. This was not the case with Warm Mineral Springs which I learned contained certain rare algae species, usually only found in the deepest parts of the ocean. I once had the privilege of a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Macalady, a Geo-microbiologist from Penn State University who conducted tests on WMS algae some years ago. She told me she was very exicited to have discovered a rare algae in the spring — a type of algae that is only usually found in the deepest parts of the ocean; she added that part of the mineralization of the water might even be due to the presence of this abundant algae. Regulars who had used the water for years prized the green algae which floated to the top of the spring and was rich with minerals. Many even used it effectively as a natural facial mask. Sarasota County never questioned or monitored the practice of adding this algaecide. No consideration nor studies were performed on behalf of this rare, and diverse eco-system to determine what effects might or might not be forthcoming. Where was the standard of preservation and protection that the Sarasota county commission touts as their mantra? The truth is that in the years they were the environmental stewards they never took the trouble to define protection and preservation, nor set any standards, nor conduct significant observations or scientific inquiry.

Then there was the rush-rush bogus Phthalate testing ordered by Commissioner Christine Robinson when it was revealed that the hundreds of square feet of plastic material (a known endocrine disruptor) was potentially detrimental to human health. This plastic material was laid down in the spring years ago without permit or permission  by an archaeologist who was told to discontinue his work. The tests Commissioner Robinson had performed on the water were pretty meaningless since phthalates collect and are measured in fatty substances, not water and sand samples. The very next day the newspaper was quick to deem everything O.K. Plenty of cover ups are founded on  bad science. We need to define what preservation and protection really mean, beyond band-aid, PR emergency  “testing” which is designed to woo the public into a false sense of security. What is the county is doing and not doing with Warm Mineral Springs and why? Keep in mind, it was the Sarasota County commission that was charged with  the oversight of the environment throughout the tenure of Cypress Lending, and they have done less than nothing, and again, suppressed problems which dumping of debris over the years have engendered.

To add insult to injury, it was the SARASOTA COUNTY COMMISSION, not the Friends of Warm Mineral Springs, or the City of North Port who spearheaded the WMS shut down. When discussing the options for keeping the facilities  open to the public, Christine Robinson’s remark concerning the bathroom facilities says it all. “We can’t do a temporary bathroom there.” Really? Temporary bathrooms have been installed during the summer months for as long as Cypress Lending had been on the grounds. When the county told you they couldn’t set up a temporary bathroom, a gate, hire lifeguards, pull the insurance and requisition re-permitting — did you really believe them? This place  is no more difficult to operate from an admittance point of view than a public park with a swimming pool. Where is the reputability of such behavior? If the Sarasota County commissioners fool you on something so obvious what do you think they are cooking up behind the scenes?

Meanwhile the Sarasota County commissioners took off on their vacations for a month and left the people of Warm Mineral Springs without a place to enjoy their vacations, and for those who had rental or tour businesses — they  are left holding the bag, and loosing plenty of income. We need to ask ourselves, “What is the real motive of the county in shutting down this spring?” An exercise of power? A prelude to a shadow agenda, or both?

Warm Mineral Springs, like many springs in Florida is presenting environmental challenges. Like everything else about WMS, the challenges are in many ways unique, but not altogether unique. I have read many articles about FL springs which have been shut down or endangered because they became polluted, stagnated, mismanaged or run dry. In the vast majority of cases the cause of these shutdowns has been due to indifference, ignorance, pollution and/or failure to preserve and protect the spring’s environment against encroachment of development. Please check out
this link or look up the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute at floridaspringsinstitute.org

Please consider for a moment the case of Manatee Mineral Springs: Located in nearby Bradenton, FL, this spring, like WMS was once renowned for its healing curative waters, and used by the native peoples before us. By the 1980’s it was surrounded by development, and though it still produced mineral waters the city of Bradenton declared it polluted, insisted it was a safety hazard and covered it with cement. In more recent times it was purchased by Reflections Manatee, a non-profit group that wants to bring it back. One can only wonder what kind of political stewardship guided this decision making process? What kind of tests were run to determine the nature of the pollution or to understand the causes? What efforts were brought about to clean and restore Manatee spring? Who stepped forward to defend what was once considered a natural treasure? If you don’t think that this or worse could happen to WMS, you really haven’t paid attention to the actions of the Sarasota County Commission.

What Can You Do?
Email the
Sarasota County
Commissioners at
commissioners@scgov.net and ask
Christine Robinson, Joe Barbetta, Carolyn Mason, Nora Patterson and Charles Hines:

What have you done to “protect and preserve” Warm Mineral Springs? Don’t let them tell you they don’t have the funds. Follow their actions in the Sarasota Phoenix Newspaper, and you will learn more about Sarasota County

Instruct them that you want to see WMS kept as Parkland, with no development on the property beyond the current footprint.

That you want no off-site development which would influence the WMS recharge zone adversely, and destroy the spring.

Email copies to the City of North Port Commissioners commissioners@cityofnorthport.com

Again, check out the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute at www.floridaspringsinstitute.org. You will see that many Florida springs are facing serious environmental challenges, and that this is a growing problem.

Take a look at springs ratings listed on the Home Page as the “Springs Dirty Dozen.” Will Warm Mineral Springs wind up on this list? Consider getting a group together and taking a Field Trip to their seminar offered in October: Restore our Coastal Springs.

Email friendsofwarmmineralsprings @ gmail.com and see where you can fit in to help. We need website expertise and coaching! We would also like to put together a core group of people who really want to make a commitment restore
Warm Mineral Springs. The public Ownership should not be denied access, nor should we be denied the “preservation and protection” commitments given as the reason this spring was purchased with public funding.

Posted in Environment, Opinion, Regional / Local News

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