Posted on November 29, 2022
On September 13, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to ask the County Administrator to research dredging open Midnight Pass.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) first denied the county’s dredging attempt in 1991 and again in 2008. Since 2008, it has become even more difficult to obtain state and federal permits to dredge Midnight Pass. The Sarasota County Commission has already wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars irresponsibly on outside consultants and county staff time trying to obtain dredging permits that are not obtainable.
The decision to deny the permit to dredge Midnight Pass was based on overwhelming scientific evidence and decades of data collection and analysis by the various permitting agencies. Based on the review of the numerous regulatory agencies involved, there is no doubt that dredging open Midnight Pass would be environmentally destructive and fiscally irresponsible.
The DEP was not alone in objecting to dredging Midnight Pass. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) objected to the dredge. The fact is, not one regulatory agency supported the County’s attempt to dredge open Midnight Pass.
The EPA stated that the potential impacts associated with the project would be significant in size and scope and affect a wide variety of aquatic resources of national importance. EPA concluded that dredging Midnight Pass was not approvable.
The NMFS stated that the adverse impacts from the dredge would result in a significant loss of estuarine habitats and substantial and unacceptable impacts to essential fish habitats and Aquatic Resources of National Importance.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission stated that the creation of an inlet in the former Midnight Pass area would not result in a net improvement in water quality. Furthermore, the commission believed that the environmental impacts associated with the dredge clearly outweigh any potential benefits.
The FDEP stated that Sarasota County could not accurately predict the shoreline changes adjacent to a new inlet. Based on FDEP staff experience with other similar programs, this would likely be a complex enforcement and compliance issue that would encumber substantial future state financial resources. Dredging Midnight Pass would utilize public properties and would result in the loss of publicly owned beaches and shores.
Midnight Pass has migrated significantly over its existence and the county cannot ensure that a reopened Midnight Pass would not migrate again. If migration did occur it appears likely Midnight Pass would adversely affect private property and potentially cost the taxpayers of Sarasota millions of dollars.
The habitat value of the former Midnight Pass location provides for a variety of important fish species. The closing of Midnight Pass contributed to the establishment of a rich haven for young fish. Due to past development within the Little Sarasota Bay watershed, such fisheries are in short supply. There appears to be no biological benefit in dredging Midnight Pass.
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. Dredging Midnight Pass would severely impact an established and highly endangered marine community.
An adequate tidal prism does not exist between Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to keep Midnight Pass open. Long-term adverse impacts on the marine environment can be expected due to routine and frequent maintenance dredging required to keep Midnight Pass open.
Little Sarasota Bay is designated as Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW). Dredging Midnight Pass is clearly not in the public’s interest as is required for an OFW designation. Dredging Midnight Pass is contrary to the intent of Florida law.
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.
The question of whether Sarasota County can obtain permits to dredge open Midnight Pass has been definitively answered, first in 1991 and in 2008, and the answer is clearly no.
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.