At the end of the day, if it isn't about ducks, apparently no one gives a crap. And since this column was supposed to focus on how the city is failing to repair an alarmingly damaged sewer system, the "no one gives a crap" part isn't just whistling Dixie.
But in the end, if it isn't ducks, or dogs, or chickens, no one cares. I wish that weren't true, but it seems, increasingly, if it isn't about ducks, we don't care.
See, here's what happened: I went to the Horse and Jockey to verify that they'd reopened after a six month hiatus where I couldn't buy a Scotch Egg anywhere, and I started talking to a neighbor about the city's sewers and why only about three people cared that they were on the brink of collapse. Half jokingly, she pointed out that no one seemed to notice city issues that were not duck-related.
I started to laugh at that, but mid-chortle, a woman I'd never met before approached our table and interrupted with, "You're talking about ducks. You must be with the Gabber."
We spent the next seven minutes discussing duck-related issues. I finally asked her about the sewers and how she felt about their current state of disrepair, and she developed a pressing need to be elsewhere.
And so this is my life now: Duckopalypse. But even worse? People really do seem to care more about ducks than they do the sewers which, seriously, are a far bigger problem.
No one listens to Don Sopak, our public works director, when he says that the entire system needs replacing. Please pay attention here; I promise to resume all duck-related reporting in short order. No one out there seems to care if the sewers fail, and that disturbs me. Because sewage collection, treatment, and disposal, like clean water and trash collection, doesn't make the top ten list of hot topics for many folks.
Well, that's not quite true – talk about raising the utility bill rates and people freak out. I heard quite a bit of complaining this Tuesday night at the Gulfport city council meeting – from people who didn't want the city to raise their water or sewer rates – and it made me want to scream. I mean, come on, folks, we're living on the edge or paradise. This isn't Syracuse or Cincinnati; we live in Florida, moments from the gorgeous sand of the barrier islands. We have roughly 25,000 days of sunshine every year; we wear shorts on Christmas. It doesn't get much better than this. People save their whole lives to retire here. Why should any of us get to live here as cheaply as people who live in misery in the blizzards of the north?
Paradise should have a price tag, especially when we tax our environment to live in paradise. That's why I wholeheartedly support a dramatic rate increase in water, sewer, and trash in Gulfport. By dramatic, I mean I would support doubling or tripling the rates. See, we're not exactly a self-sufficient county. Pinellas County has no water sources inside its borders. We take water – at a price, of course – from Pasco and Hillsborough counties. We don't have enough water to support our bloated needs – take a look at the lush green grass you see during even the hottest months – and yet when we're asked to pay a couple dollars more, we balk. We fume at the idea that we have to pay for safe, clean water, or that it costs money to take it away and clean it when we've contaminated it with last night's indulgences.
Look, it's the law of supply and demand, but because elected officials want to remain so, no one dares use economics when it comes to figuring out how to pay for paradise. You want to live cheap? Move to Nebraska. No offense, Nebraska, but you don't have a lot else on offer. Down here, we have sun-drenched beaches, emerald water, and high utility bills. That's because we have too many people here, using resources not readily accessible.
More than that, though, complaining about high utility bills just makes us sound like spoiled Americans. I realize we could provide things cheaper, if our wholesaler – St. Petersburg – would allow it. Which they won't, but that shouldn't matter. Water is a limited resource, and cleaning up the crap we flush away isn't cheap, either. We can no longer inject raw sewage into wells, which we used to do, because the state scientists finally convinced lawmakers that it can seep into our water supply. We had to build plants to treat it before letting it flow into local waterways.
Given what you get – safe water and reasonably environmentally sound practices that deal with sewage and garbage – Gulfport should charge more. The average utility customer will see less than a $10 increase this year. For that low price, we get peace of mind. Except, of course, that those aging sewer lines are still out there, not doing too well. I'm not telling secrets: Mr. Sopak never misses a chance to remind council the lines need repair. Honestly, I am amazed no one stood up at the council meeting and demanded the city use the rate increase money to fix the sewers now.
After all, when the sewers fail, where will the ducks go the bathroom?
Please send all duck and sewer related correspondence to CathySalutsri@theGabber.com.