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Bayou, key projects are moving forward

Shell Key west of the Pinellas Bayway will have increased county government attention starting in 2001.

Clam Bayou next to St. Petersburg and Gulfport continues to progress in habitat restoration efforts and the preservation area is likely to expand.

And Cunningham Key on the chain of islands leading to Fort De Soto remains on track to become headquarters for BayWatch, the Tampa Bay watchdog agency.

The three environmentally related projects took big steps in 2000 and all are expected to maintain momentum in 2001.

+ Shell Key. County and state officials approved a management plan for Shell Key Preserve this year. Now the challenge is determining how best to oversee the 180-acre island and the surrounding preservation area, which have a history of competing uses.

The goal is a balanced approach that doesn't tilt toward any particular interest group, said Craig Huegel, Pinellas County's environmental lands administrator.

Better security is a definite future element. ( See story, page _.)

But it is just one among several challenges Shell Key managers will face.

Said Huegel: "Shell Key has a lot of competing uses and expectations and no history of anyone trying to manage it in any way. We are faced with trying to protect the resource and do all the things we traditionally do and at the same time, deal with lots of different expectations."

Both environmental and public use groups will have to be accommodated without a tilt toward one or the other, Huegel said.

Other plans call for a volunteer task force to help with environmentally related projects.

+ Clam Bayou. Salt-marsh islands and channels have replaced a virtual drainage ditch near the Twin Brooks Golf Course, while a few blocks south a rock-lined pond now cleans storm water that used to flow directly into the bayou.

Crews from Lakewood and Palm Harbor high schools grew and installed the marsh plants up until two weeks ago. The plantings also will help clean storm runoff while helping create a lagoon environment for wildlife.

It's all part of a preservation effort directed toward a semi-wild pocket wedged on Boca Ciega Bay between St. Petersburg and Gulfport. It is south of 22nd Avenue S and west of 37th Street, and includes the city-owned Clam Bayou Park at the end of 34th Avenue S.

Last year, the Southwest Florida Water Management District bought 87 acres around the bayou. The 2000 federal spending bill included $1-million for the project and other grant money is being sought.

So purchase of more property to the south and the northeast of Clam Bayou is likely, perhaps by the summer of 2001. It would result in more habitat restoration and storm water treatment projects in the next few years.

+ Cunningham Key. Construction on a marine science and education center could start in a few months, said Tampa BayWatch director Peter Clark.

"Bulldozers aren't quite on the site yet. But by spring we'll start putting some buildings up," Clark said.

He added that "lots of caveats" remain. "We're still in the permitting process," he said.

State and county governments voted to buy the 16-acre key in April. It is situated on County Road 679 just before the 35-cent toll bridge leading to Fort De Soto.

Classrooms and BayWatch offices will be built on the key's west side.

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Trudy Archer has lobbied for six years to protect Clam Bayou Park from development. The park, between 27th and 34th avenues S on Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg, is now being preserved.