BRADENTON – The petition challenging a major groin project on Beer Can Island (aka Greer Island) will go before Administrative Law Judge Bram E. Canter at a hearing scheduled for the 22 and 23 of this month. The petition was originally filed by 22-year Manatee County Commissioner and TBT publisher Joe McClash. McClash was recently joined by the Sierra Club and Suncoast Waterkeeper, in an effort to save this natural island.
The island is located on the northern end of Longboat Key, and is seen by thousands as they pass over the Longboat Key Bridge, while heading south. This last natural island could be rendered all but obsolete, if three giant concrete groins are allowed to forever change the picturesque natural setting.
McClash, the Sierra Club and Suncoast Waterkeepers have to battle the high-priced legal team employed by the City of Longboat Key. Deborah Getzoff, a lawyer with Lewis, Longman & Walker, is working hard to have the groins permitted (click here to view a PDF of the permit drawings). McClash and Getzoff are no strangers, having served together on the Policy Board for Tampa Bay National Estuary; a board that sets policy to protect and restore the environment. Getzoff, who left the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the private sector, now often finds herself on the other side of such issues.
The project's opponents say that the groins will not maintain the natural conditions of the island and surrounding waterways, and are harmful to wildlife such as manatees, sea turtles, and even the black tip skimmers. They also say the groins fail to preserve, in an essentially natural or existing condition aesthetic, biological and scientific values that should endure for the enjoyment of future generations.
McClash says the consideration to permit groins also failed to consider or require reasonable alternatives and mitigation for the significant adverse impacts caused by these structures. The challengers say there are viable alternatives to the groins, which would have less adverse impact on the environment, without having a negative effect on safety, creating a dangerous environment in one that the public can safely enjoy at the present time. There is also a unique phenomenon described as a naturally-occurring “lazy river ride” that they say would be destroyed forever by the project.
The group says that fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, and/or their habitats will also be harmed and that the concrete groins would adversely affect navigation or the flow of water and/or cause harmful erosion or shoaling. They also claim that the navigational channel known as Longboat Key Pass, as well as the navigational waters adjacent to the beach and along the pass used by kayaks, sailboats and powerboats will be negatively impacted.
McClash says that perhaps the biggest issue is that the groins will inhibit the recreational use of state lands which were deeded to Manatee County with covenants to maintain the land in a natural state. The majority of Manatee County Commissioners, including island resident Carol Whitmore, refused to even place a sign on the island to ensure that the users knew about the project (click here to view construction plans PDF).
McClash, who had advocated for stronger efforts to increase residential knowledg said, “not informing residents who use this area is totally disrespectful.”
The town of Longboat Key says the project is needed to protect two condominium buildings that many believe violated permits when they were built too close to the Gulf of Mexico. The buildings have also been protected by the armoring of the shoreline with a seawall type structure. McClash says that numerous studies have proven that these seawall structures actually do more harm by increasing beach erosion and that the removal of the structures, the buildings, and infrastructure (armoring) may be in the best interest of the public.
Meanwhile, some Longboat Key residents are beginning to question whether it is legal to spend tax dollars to protect private property. Considering the fact that sea levels continue to rise, one might also question the wisdom of spending millions of dollars on such projects, which might be described as experimental.
To have the permit granted, Longboat Key needs to prove that the project is not contrary to the public interest (and be clearly in the public interest), along with meeting state rules and regulations.
"It would seem that preserving the last natural island should trump irresponsible development,” said McClash. “However, developer influence seems to trump the public’s interest time and again in Manatee County.”
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