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Could tourist 'bed taxes' be used to fund clean water projects?

 speakers at the podium
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Speakers at the event at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium included Paul "J.P." Brooker, Director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy, (standing) and from left, Jenna Byrne, President and Founder, Water Warrior Alliance; Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, Chief Zoological Officer, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Executive Director, CMA Research Institute; Max Chesnes, Environmental Reporter, Tampa Bay Times; and Justin Tramble, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper

Since so many tourist activities revolve around our beaches and bays, tourist development dollars should be used for projects to keep those waters clean. That's one of the proposals that came Thursday night from a panel of marine experts.

Some marine experts are making the case that the tens of millions of dollars collected in tourist "bed taxes" every year should be used to keep our waterways clean of pollution.

They point out that the majority of tourists who come to places like Pinellas County, for instance, are there for the beaches or to fish in hopefully clean waters.

Justin Tramble is with the environmental group Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. He was on the panel Thursday night at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

"I think we can start making this argument to businesses, to the tourism industry, that investing in clean water is a long-term investment for them," he said.

Jenna Byrne is founder of the Madeira Beach environmental groupWater Warrior Alliance.

"How many people come to Florida to visit our beaches, our fisheries, our tourism? It's our economy here," she said. "And so it's where we should definitely focus our tourist development funding.

More than $72.5 million were collected inbed tax revenue in Pinellas County alone in 2019 - the last year before COVID put a dent in tourism.

While most of that money went to marketing for the county, Tramble says a portion of that could have been used for improvements to sewer systems that regularly overflow into local waterways.

In May, half a million gallons of raw sewagespilled from a Clearwater treatment plant into Stevenson Creek, which flows into Clearwater Harbor.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.