Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Apollo Beach residents dig into pockets to dredge waterways

APOLLO BEACH — It's an all-too-familiar problem in Florida's waterside communities.

Deposited by tides and drains, silt settles on the bottom of channels. Waterways become too shallow for boats.

There's an easy — albeit expensive — solution: dredging.

But Apollo Beach residents wanted a more permanent fix, something that didn't depend on scrounging for hundreds of thousands of dollars every five to 15 years to dig out the buildup.

With a little luck and a lot of persistence, they found a way. The Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group is raising money for a two-pronged approach, an effort with the county that should better hold off the cycle of dredging.

"We've really got broad-based support," said Len Berkstresser, an Apollo Beach property owner who leads the group. "This is what's in the best interest of the community and all the people involved."

Last year, the group considered a more formal approach. Hillsborough County helps homeowners with dredging if residents agree to reimburse the work through a special tax.

But since "tax" can be a dirty word, the Apollo Beach community opted instead to collect donations from local businesses and individuals.

With about $125,000 banked, the project is moving forward with hopes of completion after next summer.

Here's how it will work: The community group wants to dredge two waterways this summer, a main channel near Andalucia and a south channel by Symphony Isles.

After a study to see how much material needs to be dredged, the project will likely go out for bids, Berkstresser said. The necessary permits have long been in place.

The second phase involves working with the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.

The county had already been looking to renourish the eroding beach at Apollo Beach Nature Preserve. Many waterfront homes have seawalls to prevent erosion, but they have caused a lot of wave energy to carve out the park's beach, said Forest Turbiville, section division manager for the county's regional parks and conservation services.

The county intends to research a breakwater system to complement the riprap — a wall of rocks — to ease the beach erosion, Turbiville said. One possibility is installing wave attenuation devices, a series of structures that let water through while dispersing wave energy.

"We'll start to reclaim the beach in addition to lessening the erosion," he said.

The department aims to finish the job next summer, Turbi­ville said. It will need to acquire environmental permits and cost estimates, though $180,000 in county funding has already been set aside.

In conjunction with the county's work, Berkstresser's Apollo Beach group wants to dredge the nearby north channel, adjacent to the Tampa Electric Co. plant, and use the dredge material to replenish the beach.

"It's kind of a win-win for everybody," said County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who brought together the Apollo Beach group, parks department and several regulatory agencies in a meeting this year. "The waterway along there is a huge asset not just for the county but for Tampa Bay. It goes a long way to restore that."

The Apollo Beach group estimates that the entire project will cost $350,000. So far, Berkstresser says the largest donations have come from TECO ($50,000), the Symphony Isles Homeowners Association ($30,000) and Mira Bay residents ($11,000).

"I think people are excited to get it done," said Barbara Compton, president of the Apollo Beach Civic Association. "It's been quite an ongoing pain for a long time."

This project is far different than another dredging initiative in Hillsborough County. In Town 'N Country, an effort around Sweetwater Creek has stalled as it inches through the county's process.

"The problem continues to get worse," said resident Jack Berlin, who is heading that project.

Only about 30 homes are affected in his neighborhood, unlike the thousands that stand to benefit from dredging in Apollo Beach.

But Berlin, echoing his South Shore counterparts, said the causes behind silt accumulation need to be addressed. He points to pollution and stormwater runoff. Fixing that on the front end, he said, would abate the expenses and frequency of dredging.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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