Leave Midnight Pass Alone
Midnight Pass was created by a hurricane in 1921. It moved up and down Siesta Beach, closed, reopened and closed. Midnight Pass closed again 24 years ago and since then Mother Nature has healed the pass. Today it provides critical nesting habitat for sea turtles and shelter for shorebirds. It is home to a young mangrove forest, acres of sea grass teeming with life in a nationally recognized aquatic resource, and of course a public beach.
They Dig and You Pay.
A few luxury home owners and boaters want to destroy all that to create a new channel at an estimated cost of $10,000 per foot. They also want Sarasota's taxpayers to cover the initial expense and then pay to keep it open for 20 years, regardless of the cost. This website was created for the many tens of thousands of taxpaying citizens who believe that for environmental, economic, scientific and legal reasons we should Leave Midnight Pass Alone.
Environmental Groups say, "Leave Midnight Pass Alone."
Virtually every local environmental organization has spoken out against this artificial and expensive dredging boondoggle. From Sierra Club and ManaSota-88 to The American Littoral Society and Audubon Society, people who understand and care about the environment oppose this plan. It is artificial, damaging, and expensive. This proposed channel will cause tidal issues for our existing passes, Venice inlet, Big Pass and New Pass. The maintenance cost is unknown. Besides, our existing passes need maintenance before we spend an unknown sum on a new one.
The previous permit applications have been denied. In fact, Sarasota County commissioners considered challenging the permit denial and were advised by their own attorney that they had a less than 25% chance of succeeding. The permit was denied because it was deemed to serve no broad public purpose. So, we continue to spend tax dollars barking up the same tree when it is clear that state and federally protected habitat for numerous species will not be permitted to create another boating channel.
More than $1 Million and Nothing to Show for It.
There is no permit to dredge Midnight Pass. Sarasota County Commissioners have spent four years and more than $1 million just to apply for a permit… and they don't have a permit yet. Can they get one? "Dredging Midnight Pass," said Karyn Erickson, the engineer hired by Sarasota County, "would require an unprecedented permit from The State of Florida, which has never approved the reopening of a closed pass under these laws." (Sarasota Herald Tribune July 1, 2008)
Even if the Sarasota County Commissioners get approval from the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, there are several federal agencies that have already voiced concerns and would have to withdraw their objections before anything could proceed. "There will certainly be lawsuits from opponents", wrote Jonathon Maziarz, Editor of Creative Loafing in the July 9, 2008 edition. "The federal Environmental Protection Agency, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service have expressed reservations about the project's necessity and viability, and the amount of ecological havoc that will be wrought by the dredging."
"I Would Not Open It If It Was Closed" says North Carolina Coastal Federation
The Midnight pass engineering scheme is based on a project in North Carolina that was very different from Midnight Pass. County- hired engineer, Karyn Erickson, has posted a slide show online of her Mason Inlet project as an example of how the Midnight Pass project would work. However, the Mason Inlet had never closed according to David Weaver, Assistant County Administrator of New Hanover County, NC. Dredging is easy. Making a channel is not. Todd Miller, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation said "Mason Inlet was always open and that is a very different thing than opening your Midnight Pass and displacing mangroves and turtle habitat."
Articles in The Wilmington News quote the cost of the Mason Inlet relocation project at $8 million versus the estimated $5.3 million. Six years after completion at 30% over budget, the Mason Inlet is being dredged again at 40% of the initial proposed project cost. Despite all this spending, beach erosion has been severe. They have also used land-based heavy equipment working on an ongoing basis to maintain the channel opening. See for yourself using Google earth maps to view Mason Inlet in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina as an example of her plan at work. Again, that project came in 30% over budget!
How Is the County Going To Pay For This? A Special Assessment?
Karyn Erikson's project in New Hanover County, North Carolina is being paid for by a continuous special assessment. Is that how Sarasota County plans to pay for Midnight Pass? It is not in the budget. Is this really a good time to make a 20 year commitment to pay for a boating channel to shave a few miles off a trip to the Gulf for a few Siesta Key homeowners?
Sarasota Bay Is Healthier Than It Has Been in 20 Years - So C'mon, Let's Destroy It for a Few Boaters.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says Little Sarasota Bay, which has become a nursery for fish, is a "nationally important aquatic resource." The state has designated Little Sarasota Bay as part of its Outstanding Florida Waters program. This is not a body of water that needs our help. Retired commercial shrimper, Wally Lewis says, "The scallops are back and I haven't been seeing those for 20 years". According to The Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, "Scallops need clear saltwater with lush sea grass beds to live. Sea grasses provide food and protection for the scallops and improve water quality." The scallops are just one clear sign of Sarasota bay's health.
Yet, the people who want to dig this massive Midnight Pass boating channel claim that this will improve water quality in Sarasota Bay. Hmmmm. It looks like that already happened.
$52 million to Make A Few Boaters Happy?
Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said, "The only way a pass is going to stay open is with consistent maintenance dredging, nobody disputes that". (Sarasota Herald Tribune July 1, 2008). Commissioner Thaxton says he will vote against re-opening Midnight Pass. Sarasota Commissioner Paul Mercier is trying to talk about how the county can pay for this but he is not being heard by commissioners Staub, Barbetta and Patterson. The issue is not just the $15 million dig that is not in the budget. We all need to consider the cost of keeping it open because we will all pay for it. Estimates have been as low as 30 million and as high as $52 million to open and maintain this pass for 20 years. Seems like nobody really knows because nobody does.
When the County is cutting back bus routes and people can't afford gas just to get to work do we really need to tax everyone so a few luxury boat owners can get to the Gulf of Mexico a little bit sooner? Our roads are over-crowded and need repair but it looks like Sarasota County Commissioners believe a Pass that has been closed for 24 years is a better expenditure of our tax dollars.
Many people say that politicians are afraid to speak up against Midnight Pass. That was understandable when it had just closed. It would have been far less destructive and more cost effective to try to establish and maintain a channel 24 years ago. Now, the entire ecosystem has healed itself. This is not about moving some sand so boats can pass. It is about a 6-7 foot deep channel that runs for 3000 feet being filled in. A 60 foot wide and 6 foot deep channel dug through protected turtle, mangrove and bird habitat
One More Unintended Consequence.
Midnight Pass will pull tidal energy from Big Pass and Venice Inlet. Less tidal energy means less water moving through the existing passes and more dredging to keep those channels clear. So, what percentage of the county's budget do we really want to allocate just for dredging passes?
They Sue. We Lose.
Casey Key beaches will erode and homeowners will sue. The taxpayers lose. Coastal engineer Eric Olsen states emphatically, "There is no question that Casey Key beaches will erode if the pass is opened." If that is known before the pass is opened then is the County actually planning to harm property owners? "Those people are organized and ready for a fight," according to Tallahassee attorney Ken Oertel who represents some of the Casey Key homeowners.
John McFarlane, President of the North Casey Key Homeowners Association was quoted in Doug Sword's Sarasota Herald Tribune article Open-Or-Shut Case saying, "If Casey Key homeowners lose beachfront because of the pass, they would consider that an unconstitutional taking of their property and go to court."
Sea Grass Go!
Replanting sea grass does not work. If sea grass can grow somewhere…it already does. Marine biologists agree that sea grass is essential for young fish and turtle habitat which is one of the many reasons it is protected. Sarasota County's plan calls for digging up 12.5 acres of sea grass and transplanting it in the old Intracoastal Waterway channel. They predict that 12.5 acres of transplanted sea grass will magically become 86 acres of sea grass. There is a similar fantasy plan for 3.3 acres of mangroves. Does that sound even remotely feasible? Just call Sarasota County and tell them you want to "move some mangroves" or "transplant some sea grass". See what happens. Will Sarasota County taxpayers have to pay the $10,000 fine per mangrove harmed?
Insurance Rates Soar When FEMA Maps Change.
Call your insurance agent and ask what it means to be in a velocity or "V" zone. Many homeowners who are not currently in a V zone could be added because of Midnight Pass. These are homeowners who do not have direct water access with boat docks. Their homes likely will not benefit from increased property values. To the contrary, their homes will become even more difficult and expensive to insure. Marty Hildebrant, the Insurance Consumer Advocate with the Department of Insurance said, "Yes the rates would go up if Midnight Pass was opened." How much?