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ABWIG goes door to door for waterways

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image ABWIG organizer Len Berkstresser works with other volunteers to prepare informational pamphlets on Saturday to hand out to residents of Apollo Beach. Mitch Traphagen Photo

The goal is large and a deadline is looming, but organizers are confident that their efforts will pay off for the entire community.

By Mitch Traphagen

APOLLO BEACH - ABWIG, the Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group, went door to door on Saturday looking for support to improve the waterways in the waterfront community. The goal is large and a deadline is looming, but organizers are confident that their efforts will pay off for the entire community.

ABWIG is a volunteer organization created 15 years ago to dredge the main channels from Tampa Bay into the canals of Apollo Beach. In the years since its founding, the channels have since filled in with sediment, decreasing the depth of the channels making boating much more difficult. The organization has come back together in order to raise awareness and money towards resolving the issue.

The challenge is daunting: the group hopes to raise more than $350,000 to dredge the channels to a minimum of 6 feet deep and 60 feet wide in all channels leading into the community. Already they have collected approximately $75,000 and they have the necessary permits in place, no small feat in itself as environmental regulations have changed considerably in the years since the group’s founding. The permits, however, come with a deadline: they are good only until 2013.

With that challenge in mind, a group of 20 volunteers fanned out across Apollo Beach on Saturday to knock on doors, armed with pamphlets containing information about the problem and offering various means of donating to the cause. The group is encouraging a donation of $200 from every household in the community, but organizers say they will be happy with any level of support, including volunteer effort. Some Apollo Beach businesses have already stepped forward with pledges.

“Failure is not an option,” said ABWIG organizer Len Berkstresser. “This needs to go forward and we are going to go forward with it. If for some reason we can’t reach our goal, the money will remain in the bank collecting interest until we can make it. We are also looking into extending the permits if necessary.”

Berkstresser is also actively seeking the support of the area’s developers and other large businesses.

“Getting something done about this with the money we can collect in the next few years is, in my mind, a 95 percent certainty,” he said. “It is extremely important to this community.”

He sees this as much more than an issue limited to boaters and owners of waterfront property; he sees it as an issue that touches the very heart of the community.

“Essentially what we are going to do is raise the property values in all of Apollo Beach,” Berkstresser said. “We want to maintain the waterfront lifestyle that we have in this community. Everyone has heard the phrase ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ and that is true in this case. Waterfront and non-waterfront properties will benefit from this.”

ABWIG has plans for several fundraising events, including a golf tournament. There are pickle jars soliciting donations in businesses throughout the community and volunteers will again take to the streets in the coming months to visit homes they may have missed on Saturday. The effort towards digging out the channels in Apollo Beach is digging in and moving forward. But that isn’t enough for Berkstresser. He plans to tackle what is perhaps an even bigger challenge.

“I don’t want to be here in another 15 years doing this all over again,” he said. “I want a long-term solution. I’m trying to formulate in my own mind if there is a solution. Is there a breakwater, is there an island, is there a jetty that can be constructed to protect our waterways?” That is a county-level issue but, hopefully, as we move towards the dredging, we can also move towards a long-term solution. That is totally separate [from the current objectives] but it is something I’ll be working on.”

Given his motivation in moving forward to raise funds for the dredging project, if a breakwater or even an island is what is needed and is possible, then Berkstresser is likely to find a way to make it happen.

More information about ABWIG is available on their website at www.abwig.org or by writing to:
ABWIG
PO Box 3251
Apollo Beach, FL 33572

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