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County officials, community leaders want to put the “beach” back in Apollo Beach

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image Calling attention to a growing degree of damaging erosion, Ross Dickerson, recreational parks manager in Hillsborough County’s Parks, Recreation & Conservation Dept., points out how the shoreline has changed. Photo Melody Jameson

If current plans are realized, this waterfront community on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay once again may have its own public beach.

By MELODY JAMESON

APOLLO BEACH – If current plans are realized, this waterfront community on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay once again may have its own public beach.
And, it well may be the result of different objectives established by two distinct organizations blended in a cooperative endeavor undertaken on a dovetailing schedule.

Hillsborough County’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department wants to save the steadily eroding Apollo Beach Nature Park at the north end of Surfside Boulevard. The Apollo Beach Waterways Improvement Group (ABWIG) wants to dredge the community’s two primary boating channels of accumulated silt to give sailors easier going to and from Tampa Bay. With some close coordination, they may be able to pull off both… by next fall…. and with lasting consequences.

This was the gist of discussions last week during a quarterly ABWIG community meeting where parks department managers shared their concerns and outlooks with group members about saving the gradually disappearing public nature preserve.

Hillsborough County acquired the property in 1996 when it was purchased for $2.1 million from a developer under the county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program (ELAPP), noted Forest Turbiville, parks department ELAPP manager.

At the time, the site consisted of 63 acres. Today, due to the erosion generated by wave action and often driven by weather conditions, the same property is just about 56 acres, he added. In 16 years, seven acres of land simply has been washed away, Turbiville emphasized. In dollar terms, based on the original price, the loss amounts to more than $233,330.

Over the years, several measures have been employed to try to halt or slow the erosion, Turbiville said. Salt marsh grasses were planted along 300 feet of the little park’s shoreline, but 90 percent of them soon were washed away in unpredictable weather conditions. In late 2007, the department tried another low-tech approach involving setting marsh grass plants inside open-ended tubular containers close together along the shoreline to form a barrier until the grasses could take hold. The concept had been successful in other parts of the country, but failed to keep the nature park land from disappearing into the bay, he added. The next attempt to save the park shoreline was placement of riprap in 2009, but even those heavier materials now are showing signs of undercutting. Turbiville said.

The department, however, remains committed to salvaging and rebuilding the park land area, estimating a $600,000 budget to accomplish the objective, he indicated. It now is preparing to issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) aimed at getting a study of wave energy around the park shoreline and the most effective means of dissipating such wave action to prevent erosion.

Once the study points to the wave attenuation system best suited to the site, applications for the appropriate permits allowing installation can be submitted to the several agencies with oversight responsibility by the second quarter of 2013, Turbiville said.

At this point, ABWIG’s channel cleaning efforts become particularly pertinent to the park restoration, the department managers pointed out. If the dredging, expected to get underway in June, 2013, were to begin in the north channel, the sandy material could be immediately placed at, in and around whatever system is chosen to block or redirect the destructive wave action that erodes the park shoreline, Turbiville suggested. In this way, the park shoreline could be re-nourished and rebuilt, he indicated, while the ABWIG expense related to transportation of dredged material to another location is reduced.

Len Berkstresser, ABWIG president, said that in view of the advantages to both organizations and the community benefits of coordinating their efforts, he was leaning toward beginning the dredging endeavor in the north channel. The most recently revised ABWIG project timeline also encompasses the concurrent parks department erosion control procedure.

Now closing in on their $250,000 funding raising goal, with most permits in hand and selection of a dredging contractor on the horizon, Berkstresser pointed out that “we’re near the finish line; we can see it from here.” The cooperative efforts, he added, will produce not only a “long term solution lengthening effectiveness of channel dredging but also a dramatic Apollo Beach improvement in the form of a restored functional park that will complement other area features such as Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center complex.”

A re-nourished beachfront in the nature park may not rival the white sands of a Gulf of Mexico beach, Turbiville summed up, but “restored as we envision, the new beach will be enjoyable for shelling, wading, walking, sun bathing, even contemplating marine activity on the bay.”

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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