CLEARWATER — This morning, volunteers were going to fan out along south Clearwater Beach and plant 10,000 sea oats. The goal was to create nine new dunes to keep sand from blowing onto the BeachWalk promenade and the street.
The problem is, some beach businesspeople and property owners were stunned when they heard this was about to happen. They oppose more sand dunes on the beach, and there hadn't been any public discussion about it.
"Sea oats are the foundation for sand dunes. We basically put these big blocks of sand on the beach that reduce our waterfront vistas. A wall of sand blocks the view," said David Little, a real estate agent and redevelopment chairman for the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.
The beach chamber's board asked the city to postpone the project. And City Council member Paul Gibson wanted the council to discuss it.
So the planting of 10,000 sea oats has been put on hold. The City Council will take up the issue at a work session Tuesday morning and at a public meeting Thursday night.
The sea oats were to be planted in gaps between existing sand dunes on the tourist-heavy stretch of beach from Pier 60 south to the beachfront parking lot at the old Adam's Mark hotel site.
Beachfront property owners like Little worry that the dunes will grow a lot bigger over the years. He says dunes from sea oats the city planted in the 1980s have reached a height of 13 feet. They're protected by the state, so the city and private landowners aren't allowed to get rid of them.
However, City Manager Bill Horne says Clearwater is prepared to take steps to prevent the new dunes from growing too tall.
"Now we try to keep the beach level. We regrade the beach so the dune formation is not the same as it would have been, say, in the late '80s," Horne said. "Our feeling is that 20 years from now you won't see a 15-foot sand dune creating vista and view problems."
The beach chamber is suggesting an alternative: using sand fences from December through April to keep sand from blowing onto streets and the city's $30 million BeachWalk.
However, Horne wonders if the city could get the state's permission to do that.
The City Council appears divided on the issue.
"I like sea oats as much as the next person, unless they're blocking beach vistas," said Gibson, the council member who called for a halt to the project. "We have heard from numerous constituents, including the beach chamber.
"I agree with them that it is appropriate to thoughtfully consider the sea oats and other alternatives to solve our problem with blowing sand."
Vice Mayor John Doran supports the sea oat planting but is happy to have a discussion about it. He wants environmental officials to present their views at Thursday night's meeting.
"We do have to control the blowing sand, whether it's changes to BeachWalk and its entryway, or using the sea oats," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "I don't think anyone wants to block the views. We didn't spend the money to create BeachWalk to block it off from the water."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.