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Dune ramps raise controversy

With 10 ramps down _ make that, up _ and 25 to go, the city's dune walkover project is well under way. "People are using them. They are standing in line to use them, waiting for the last nail to go in," Assistant City Manager Danny Walker said.

But in parts of this beach community, some residents are hoping for just the opposite _ they want to stop the first nail from going in on ramps near their homes.

"There are a whole lot of people against it. They don't feel (the ramps) are going to be constructive or beneficial to any of us. In fact, they will damage our personal privacy and property value," said Joan Walker of 107 26th Ave., Pass-a-Grille. She is not related to Danny Walker.

The ramps are slated to be built at all public beach access paths in St. Petersburg Beach. They are supposed to protect the dunes by keeping the sand in place, which in turn protects the city during hurricanes and other storms. A $195,000 state grant and a $60,000 county grant are financing the project, which has been in the works for about 12 years, Danny Walker said.

The ramps that have been completed or are under construction are between the 4200 and 4500 blocks of Gulf Boulevard and along Gulf Way at even-numbered avenues between First and 22nd, with the exception of Fourth Avenue.

City officials put plans for the Fourth Avenue ramp on hold after a resident objected to the project and requested a hearing with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the state agency paying for the project.

Residents in Ms. Walker's residential neighborhood similarly have objected to plans for ramps at public beach access points between 26th and 31st avenues. Because of the neighbors' objections, city commissioners will have a public hearing next month before proceeding with those plans.

"The hearing is set up to hear people's reasons as to why the construction of these walkovers will harm them and be a detriment to them," Walker said.

Ms. Walker, who has written to DNR with her complaints, said she questions the need for the walkovers in her area.

"Why do we need them here when everything is so naturally developed? Very few people use these public accesses. These bridges will be an extra place for us to police," she said, adding that one ramp would go by her window.

Danny Walker said he did not have a specific date set for the city's hearing but said an announcement would be made at the City Commission meeting Nov. 6. He also did not know when a decision on the ramp at Fourth Avenue would be made.

In the meantime, plans to construct walkovers on the odd numbered avenues between First and 23rd avenues are proceeding. He said permits for those projects should be complete any day, with construction beginning immediately thereafter.

A ramp also is planned for Upham Beach at the 6800 block of Gulf Way, where the city is planning to pump sand onto the beach within 30 days, Danny Walker said.