Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Opinion

Plan to protect Lassing Park from erosion is a chance to educate dog owners

Is erosion along a waterfront park in St. Petersburg being allowed to persist so that Fido can run free?

That's the sentiment of some residents who have watched erosion over the years along the northern edge of Lassing Park.

The battering that the park's shoreline withstood during Tropical Storm Debby only made matters worse.

City officials and representatives at Tampa Bay Watch agree, something must be done, and soon.

"Because Tropical Storm Debby caused further erosion, we're going to take a closer look," said Mike Connors, city administrator of public works.

Last year, Tampa Bay Watch proposed a plan that includes placing three oyster bars near the shoreline. But growing frustrations between residents of the Old Southeast and Tropical Shores neighborhood associations have left a shrinking stretch of waterfront park in limbo.

The park is a picturesque, passive strip along old Tampa Bay that stretches along both neighborhoods. The two neighborhoods intersect at the southern edge of the park at Beach Drive SE and 22nd Avenue S.

At odds are the Old Southeast residents who want to stop beach erosion and Tropical Shore residents who express safety concerns for park patrons of the four-legged variety. Dog lovers say the oysters pose a safety threat to canines as they romp along the park's shoreline. Of note is the fact that Tropical Shores is eight blocks south of where the erosion is most prevalent.

The city's erosion trend analysis conducted in 2000, 2005 and 2011 paints a clear picture — erosion along the northern edge of the park is prominent.

Laura Hensley, a resident of the Old Southeast, is one of several neighbors concerned about further erosion.

"We had a significant erosion problem," she said, adding that city officials, a biologist and coastal engineer at Tampa Bay Watch have visited the area and agree that something must be done and soon.

Hensley said that last summer when residents were presented with a restoration project, including the design from Tampa Bay Watch, some feathers were ruffled.

"A few people were not fans of the idea from the get-go," she said. "They were concerned with running their dogs at that end of the park."

Tampa Bay Watch has even altered the oyster bed plan to assure residents' safety. But the issue remains unresolved.

Keep in mind that dogs are not allowed to run loose at the park — and Lassing Park is not a dog beach.

Other residents voiced concerns about kite boarders getting injured, but its a nonissue considering that kite boarders use the southern region of the park.

"It's really up to the homeowners and the city if they want to continue the project," said Peter Clark, executive director of Tampa Bay Watch.

To be clear, Old Southeast residents are in favor of the project as are city officials and Tampa Bay Watch.

Residents who ventured out after the recent tropical storm saw all the proof they needed to sound an alarm about the need for action: fallen palm trees floating in the surf and more erosion.

"It's a very shallow beach," said Connors. "From a design principle, we're trying to use these beds to break the waves."

Connors said he is hopeful that residents will accept the plan going forward.

"We're going to make some design changes to address the citizen concerns, and plan to meet with Tampa Bay Watch officials about revising the plan," he said.

The sooner the better, says Clark.

"Right now it's not a natural shoreline. It doesn't have salt marsh, mangroves or oysters communities," he said, noting that erosion will continue.

"It's a great project in an urban area and there's a lot of public education that goes along with it."

Part of that education should include helping residents understand the consequences of allowing Fido to romp as the beach erodes.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @StPeteSandi or at (727) 893-8874.

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