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Treasure Island commission to take on war over beach raking

TREASURE ISLAND — For a city that largely built its reputation on its wide, white, sandy beach, it seems too much sand is not a good thing, at least for the city's tourism industry.

Several years ago, the city began protecting and encouraging the growth of dunes. The goal, supported by both federal and state regulations, was to create a more natural beach that would be a buffer against storm surges.

Traditional beach raking at the foot of the dunes was restricted and virtually eliminated in recent years. Growth of native plants, including sandspurs, was protected. The dunes spread wider and grew taller.

As a result, the protected dunes blocked views of the Gulf of Mexico — and access to the beach — from many hotels.

Growth of sea oats, sea grapes, sandspurs and other native plants flourished.

Animal life, including rats, increased as well.

During its workshop session Tuesday, the City Commission will debate an effort by unhappy beachfront hotel and motel owners to halt that dune growth.

The workshop is held directly after the commission's regular meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.

Largely as a result of beach property owner complaints, the city's Beach Stewardship Committee is recommending that the city change its "no rake" zone to allow grooming of the sand closer to the base of existing dunes.

City policy restricts beach raking to no closer than 15 feet from the base of any dune and bars any raking along the wall separating the public beach from hotels and other beachfront private properties.

However, state and federal regulations may restrict how much, if at all, the city can reverse those policies.

"We have been raking that sand for 40 years. There is nothing in our constitution or bylaws that says we can't rescind that (beach raking) resolution," argues Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr., who called for the commission debate.

"Eventually the beach will be all one large dune," complains David King, owner of the Tahitian Beach Motel at 11320 Gulf Blvd.

King makes no effort to hide his dislike of the city's dune system which, he says, blocks easy access to the beach from his 1960s hotel.

"My guests want to see and hear the water. They tell me that it is difficult to walk through the sticky stickers (sandspurs). Some have told me they won't come back because of the dunes," says King.

He strongly supports the efforts of city resident Sid Appel, who says he represents more than 90 percent of beachfront property owners.

Last month, Appel told city officials that the owners are prepared to sue the city to force better beach maintenance and restriction of dune growth.

He presented a petition signed by 71 business owners and residents living on the Gulf of Mexico who demand that the city remove weeds, sandspurs, cacti and other nuisance plants growing on the beach, as well as rats that live in the dunes.

Appel says Treasure Island is "at a competitive disadvantage" when compared with other west coast tourist destinations.

Treasure Island commission to take on war over beach raking 01/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 3:30am]
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