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Dunedin Causeway parking lot 'like an obstacle course'

A truck navigates a large depression in an easement used to gain access to the south side of the Dunedin Causeway.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

A truck navigates a large depression in an easement used to gain access to the south side of the Dunedin Causeway.

DUNEDIN — Kim Allison loves pulling off the Dunedin Causeway to fish and relax on the beach.

So at least three times a week, the longtime Dunedin resident slowly edges her way into the beach's sandy parking lot, being careful to avoid the large potholes and gullies.

The 50-year-old critical care nurse has gotten used to the way her car rocks as she expertly navigates over large stones and around birds bathing in the water-filled craters.

"It's like an obstacle course," Allison said.

The situation has gotten so bad that the Dunedin City Commission has passed a resolution asking Pinellas County to step up and honor a 2001 interlocal agreement to assist with the causeway's maintenance.

According to the resolution, beach erosion and water runoff from the causeway has carved deep valleys that make "certain areas unsafe to drive, park or even walk on."

And beach erosion isn't the only problem. Residents who live along the causeway say sand constantly blows onto the Pinellas Trail and accumulates on the shoulder, causing water to pond along the roadway and making it unsafe for bikers and walkers.

Dunedin officials — who have unsuccessfully lobbied the county for help for months — say they fear for the safety of the 1 million annual visitors who might visit the beach on their way to or from Honeymoon Island and Caladesi state parks.

"It's something we want to preserve for future generations, and it's important they invest in it," said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. "It just can't be a once-a-year issue."

County officials understand the concern, but budget cuts have forced them to prioritize road and bridge maintenance in recent years.

Under their agreement, Dunedin is to maintain the bathrooms and concession area surrounding Sail Honeymoon's boat rental station, said Dunedin parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi. The city also cuts grass and maintains the median and causeway welcome signs.

Pinellas County, he said, is responsible for everything else.

Pete Yauch, Pinellas County's director of transportation and stormwater, acknowledged that Dunedin contacted the county back in May. He said county workers responded to the area, but "scheduling and finding the resources to do the work" has been an issue.

Funding for a landscape beautification program, which helped pay for restorations to Dunedin's beach and parking area, was eliminated about three years ago, he said. Now officials only come out for issues that pose a great danger, like sharp dropoffs or guardrail issues.

But Yauch said officials have tried to fulfill the agreement when they can: About six to nine months ago, the county brought in $60,000 worth of sand and shell, then graded it. "Without some stabilized base, the sand moves around as traffic drives on it and as you get heavy rains. So there's not really a good solution except regular maintenance," Yauch said. "We've just got to find a working solution."

Regular beach visitors this week said they've noticed the deterioration. Some reported seeing cars get stuck in the deep ruts during rainstorms. Others said the ditches also have an upside: They remind drivers that they should be moving slowly anyway.

Ken Smith, 54, of Tampa said the area's popularity has increased traffic over the years, creating a "Catch-22" situation because it's cars that cause the problem.

"It's a shame because it's gorgeous out here," he said. "Some permanent solution or ongoing maintenance is needed because the cars are going to come."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Dunedin Causeway parking lot 'like an obstacle course' 10/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 10:14pm]
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