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Digging Big Holes or Dredging Midnight Pass

Posted on April 12, 2023

The Sarasota County Commission has allocated $1.6 million to either dredge or install culverts at the former Midnight Pass area. Sarasota County taxpayers have already spent over $10 million on two failed attempts to obtain permits to dredge Midnight Pass.

Dredging Midnight Pass would be expensive, environmentally damaging, and a waste of taxpayer money. The possibility of spending at least $86 million dollars on a dredging project could be better spent on enforcement of existing regulations by the agencies charged with protecting the health and well-being of Little Sarasota Bay.

Culverts placed between Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico will not solve the pollution problem of Little Sarasota Bay, only moving the pollution to the Gulf of Mexico where unintended consequences are likely to occur. The solution to pollution is NOT dilution, the solution to pollution is elimination and reduction. The closing of Midnight Pass did not cause the pollution of Little Sarasota Bay, stormwater runoff is the primary cause of the pollution.

There are many projects in the Little Sarasota Bay watershed worthy of funding that are ecologically beneficial, do not cause environmental destruction, and are fiscally responsible. Dredging Midnight Pass is not one of those projects.

A few of the many projects in need of funding within Little Sarasota Bay are summarized below:

  1. Restoration of the Jim Neville Preserve

The 35-acre preserve owned by Sarasota County needs upland restoration, marsh and mangrove creation, and tidal lagoon restoration. The Jim Neville Preserve is located immediately east of the former Midnight Pass and would be directly impacted by the proposed dredging of Midnight Pass.

  1. Control of exotic plants and animals

The proliferation of Australian Pine trees and other invasive, non-native plants within the Little Sarasota Bay watershed threatens the overall environmental integrity and health of the bay. A priority in the funding for the management of Little Sarasota Bay should be the eradication of Australian Pines and other invasive, non-native plants.

  1. Increased funding for marine enforcement of boating regulations

Seagrass beds have been severely impacted by the use of jet skis and small watercraft in the shallow waters of Little Sarasota Bay and the former Midnight Pass area. A priority in the funding for the management of Little Sarasota Bay should be to restrict jet ski and motorized watercraft use in seagrass beds and restore areas of disturbed bay bottom. Marine patrol and law enforcement should be increased in problem areas.

  1. Ecological management of the former Midnight Pass area

A productive marine community including young mangroves, nesting least terns, and loggerhead sea turtle nests, currently exists or has existed within the proximity of the former Midnight Pass area since its closure. The habitat value of the old Midnight Pass location provides for a variety of important fish species. The closing of Midnight Pass produced a rich haven for young fish and shellfish. Due to past development within the Little Sarasota Bay watershed, such fisheries are in short supply.  A priority in the funding for the management of Little Sarasota Bay should be the protection of the habitat values for threatened, rare and endangered species found in the former Midnight Pass area.

  1. Stormwater runoff

Increased runoff for impervious surfaces and continuing urbanization of the Little Sarasota Bay watershed contribute to decreasing the bay’s salinity. Stormwater runoff changes salinity patterns and increases toxic chemical transportation and sedimentation into the bay. A priority in the funding for the management of Little Sarasota Bay should be to enhance and restore wetlands that have been previously altered or eliminated and control the quality and quantity of the stormwater runoff entering the creeks and waterways of the bay. Freshwater and intertidal wetlands have been severely altered or eliminated in the vicinity of Little Sarasota Bay due to unwise residential land development. Wetlands provide valuable habitats, filter pollutants, and regulate freshwater flow into the bay.

  1. Mangrove Restoration

Mangroves are critical to the formation of estuarine marine food chains, shoreline protection and stabilization, wildlife nurseries, and the natural filtering process of water. Mangrove cutting and trimming result in deleterious ecological effects. These effects include the reduction in standing leaf crops, net primary production export, flower and propagule production, and reduced fauna habitat utilization. Management for Little Sarasota Bay should include enforcement of existing regulations on the trimming and cutting of mangroves and mangrove restoration and creation projects.

  1. Wastewater, Stormwater, and Septic Tank Pollution Reduction

Septic tanks can discharge residual nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants into adjacent waterways. Most soils located in the Little Sarasota Bay watershed are rated severe by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and are not appropriate for septic tanks.

Non-point source pollution associated with stormwater runoff associated with residential development has significantly increased the pollutants in the Little Sarasota Bay watershed.

A priority in the funding for the management of Little Sarasota Bay should be to eliminate nitrogen loading and other pollutants from stormwater runoff and septic systems that eventually discharge into Little Sarasota Bay.

  1. Palmer Point Park Restoration

Palmer Point Park is a 33-acre disposal island owned by Sarasota County.  It is located at the north end of Casey Key, the former Midnight Pass. Ecological restoration of the degraded habitats at Palmer Park Point can be done through the removal of exotic vegetation, mangrove, upland, and tidal lagoon restoration, and planting native vegetation. Palmer Point Park restoration would benefit native and migratory bird populations, such as the federally protected Piping Plover, create diverse marine habitats that could support many fish and shellfish, provide water quality benefits and reduce erosion and sedimentation.

ManaSota-88 strongly recommends the Sarasota Board of County Commission withdraw its endorsement and financial support to conduct additional studies to dredge open Midnight Pass.

Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.


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