APOLLO BEACH — On the offshore party venue that is popularly known as Beer Can Island, most of the structures were designed to sustain flooding.
Sheds were put on stilts, the tiki bar doubled as a barge. Even the food truck sat on a wooden raft. In advance of any major storm, everything was always strapped down and anchored to the 9-acre island situated between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base.
“But everything can only be designed for a few feet of flooding,” said Russell Loomis, one of the owners of the island that they have named Pine Key Tampa Bay.
As Hurricane Idalia blew past Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Loomis estimates that the entire property was under at least 5 feet of waves, destroying most of what the owners have added since 2017, when they purchased and turned the island from an informal boating destination to a membership-driven party venue.
“It’s bad,” Loomis said.
Most structures were shattered into pieces, scattered around the island.
The food truck’s straps were torn by the storm and the vehicle appears to have been tossed as high as 14 feet in the air.
“It’s crazy,” Loomis said. “You can look up and see where the truck was rubbing against the trees and taking off bark.”
But it could have been worse, he said. The truck remained on the island and landed on its wheels.
And the storm did not speed up the erosion of the island that, decades ago, was more than 23 acres.
“I feel like in one spot, we actually got more sand,” Loomis said. “We probably lost four or five trees that we have to chop up.”
On Thursday, Loomis and a team walked the island and began clearing debris.
“Not much can be saved,” he said. “So, we’re removing most of it. I’ve gotten a ton of phone calls, tons of messages, from people offering to volunteer their time to come help clean up. We’ve got a huge support network.”
They will then begin to rebuild everything.
“We’re going to try to get a makeshift bar up as soon as possible so we can cater to our members,” Loomis said.
The owners are also already in discussions with dredging companies to have sand added to the island.
“We’d love to elevate it 3 or 4 feet,” Loomis said.
Meantime, the owners continue their battle with the Hillsborough County government.
Loomis and three friends originally purchased the island as a place to park their tiki-bar barge, which was available for parties and events. They eventually made the barge part of the island.
The county argued their business model ran afoul of code violations while the owners countered that the island somehow did not have any zoning — which means the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over it.
Discussions are ongoing over how the island should be zoned.
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