Wednesday, September 19, 2018
News Roundup

Thanks to Hurricane Irma, there’s a pass at Shell Key again

By CRAIG PITTMAN

Times Staff Writer

AT THE SHELL KEY PRESERVE — From a boat puttering along in the water, the sandy beach seems to go on and on. Then, abruptly, it ends at a mass of tangled, overturned mangroves where a great blue heron sits on an exposed root.

And there, stretching for the next 120 feet, is a brand new opening in Shell Key off the Pinellas County coast.

Two years ago, fans of the Shell Key Preserve in Tierra Verde feared it was dying, killed off by stagnant water when the only pass cutting through the island silted shut. There were meetings and petitions and discussions about what to do, even a vote by the Legislature — but nothing happened.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Something is killing Shell Key’s nature preserve — but what is it?

Then Hurricane Irma swept through in September and blew open this new pass, one that has grown wider in the succeeding months.

"I’ve just been calling it Irma Pass," said Peter Clark, founder and president of the conservation group Tampa Bay Watch.

To the quartet of 20-somethings who had anchored their boats at a sand bar in the pass Thursday afternoon so they could hop out and dance and drink a beer or two, it’s just "the new pass."

"It’s a new spot where people can gather up and join together and have a good time," said Denis Frain, 25, of St. Petersburg

"It’s awesome," agreed his friend Taylor Donaldson, 24.

Clark estimated the pass is about 120 feet wide on the Gulf of Mexico side, about 75 feet wide in the middle and then about 100 feet wide on the landward side. The depth varies from about a foot to maybe four or five feet, he said.

Some people have hailed this new pass as the perfect replacement for the old one.

"We’re pretty happy," said Colleen Bouchard, co-owner of the popular Shell Key Shuttle service.

SHIFTING SANDS: Debby’s waves wash away some beaches, leaving tourists amazed

The water flow through that pass has flushed out the area that was stagnant and revived its natural appeal, said Bouchard, whose shuttle service takes customers out to Shell Key three times a day for what the company’s web site calls "some of the best shelling and birding on the Gulf Coast."

But others say it’s not big enough to replace the old pass and its steady flushing action.

"While it’s a nice sign, it’s not a solution to our problem at all," said Tierra Verde resident Morrie Goldman, who has been working on reopening the old pass ever since it closed. "We still need to reopen the northern pass."

Florida’s dunes and shoreline are constantly sliding this way and that, pushed by wind and waves. In fact, aerial photos from the 1950s reveal that back then, Shell Key didn’t exist. At most there’s a clump of mangroves and a sandbar.

REMEMBER THIS? Hermine’s pounding waves took toll on Pinellas beaches

But by the 1990s, swirling sand washing southward from Pass-a-Grille Beach had accumulated enough mass in that spot to form an island that’s become popular with boaters, birders and campers.

Such an island, by law, belongs to the state. But in 2000 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed to lease it to Pinellas County to manage as a preserve. It’s remained a rare bit of undeveloped property in the state’s most densely populated county.

What’s kept the estuary behind the island thriving is the pass that cuts through it. But the water flowing through the pass also carries sand, and in 2011 enough sand accumulated that it sealed up the pass. The Tierra Verde Homeowners Association got a county permit to dredge it open, but within months the reopened channel clogged up again and needed to be reopened once more.

Then, in 2015, it closed again, and has stayed that way. That has led to concerns about how stagnant water is killing off sea grass beds vital to the health of the preserve. Meanwhile the silted-in land bridge has allowed coyotes and dogs to cross over into shorebird nesting territory and kill the birds. Some Tierra Verde homeowners were also upset that they no longer had a direct route to the Gulf.

WASHED ASHORE: St. Pete Beach bomb isn’t the strangest thing to wash up on a Florida beach

The homeowners, who are convinced that the sand came from beach renourishment projects further north, managed to persuade the Legislature last year to approve $1.6 million to dredge out the sand and reopen the pass, Goldman said. However Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the appropriation. Goldman said they are hoping to try again this year.

The report on a two-year study of the situation by a University of South Florida oceanographer is nearly completed, according to Andy Squires, Pinellas County’s coastal resources section manager. While a draft of the report does recommend dredging, Squires pointed out that it does not discuss the permitting or cost of such a project.

To Clark, though, the important lesson here is that nature can still take control of a situation and alter it.

"How cool is it," he asked, "that a storm opened up a brand new pass that never existed before, and we get to see it?"

WANT TO GET AWAY? The top 10 beach camping spots in Florida

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

 
Comments
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Fitzmagic beer? Of course someone named a craft brew after Ryan Fitzpatrick

Fitzmagic beer? Of course someone named a craft brew after Ryan Fitzpatrick

The association between beards and brews is strong. Yes, craft beer lovers are a diverse and special group of men and women (don’t @ me on Twitter, beer people), but try visiting a local brewery and not finding at least one big, glorious beard ...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Why Blake Snell should win the AL Cy Young Award

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Why Blake Snell should win the AL Cy Young Award

Rays pitcher Blake Snell becomes baseball's first 20-game winner and deserves to win the AL Cy Young Award, Rick Stroud says on today's podcast. Snell picks up the victory as the Rays  blank the Rangers to move 18 games above .500.Plus, Buc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
‘Something fishy’ about sale of a golf-course villa in Seminole

‘Something fishy’ about sale of a golf-course villa in Seminole

SEMINOLE — There were so many unusual aspects to the sale of a certain Seminole villa that it’s hard to know where to begin. Is it with the fact the villa sold for $100,000 despite a cash offer of $128,700? Is it that the buyer was a Realtor in the s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays calling up Meadows, plus Hu, Milner, Pruitt but not Wong

Rays calling up Meadows, plus Hu, Milner, Pruitt but not Wong

With Triple-A Durham's season finally over after Tuesday's loss in the national championship game, the Rays are making four additional call-ups.The most interesting is OF Austin Meadows, the other prime piece, along with RHP Tyler Glasnow, acquired f...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

TAMPA — A sudden boomlet in premium office space is getting boomier as developers detail their plans for the first of three office buildings planned at Midtown Tampa, a $500 million mixed-use development near Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway.M...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Watch this Florida man legally drive a motorized jet ski

Watch this Florida man legally drive a motorized jet ski

Jacksonville has become known for unique motorists as of late, with one seen lounging on a motorcycle while driving and another spotted driving a lawn mower on Interstate 95. Just when you think you've seen it all, however, a Jacksonville man was sp...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Rangers, playing for something

For starters: Rays at Rangers, playing for something

After the excitement of LHP Blake Snell earning his majors-most milestone 20th victory in Tuesday's 4-0 win over the Rangers, the Rays turn their attention back to a suddenly smaller number, the 5 1/2 games they trail the A's for the final AL playoff...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

NEW PORT RICHEY — A few hours before he was lying on his back in the woods, shirtless with a dog’s jaws clamped around his arm, Kevin Wilson climbed into a second-story window and tried to kidnap a 6-month-old baby girl, according to the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Coach Earl Garcia high on quarterback IQ of Charlie Dean

Coach Earl Garcia high on quarterback IQ of Charlie Dean

TAMPA — Charlie Dean has settled in at Hillsborough High, a place he says feels like home, with a coach, Earl Garcia, he totally respects.In many ways it feels like a relief.That's because Hillsborough is Dean's third school in three years, the...
Updated: 2 hours ago