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Bowling for dollars, ABWIG crosses the finish line

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image The organization's final fundraiser pushed them over their $250,000 goal. Photo Mitch Traphagen

The goal: to ensure that Apollo Beach remains a waterfront community

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

For the past three years, ABWIG, the Apollo Beach Waterways Improvement Group has been beating the drums and knocking on doors in an effort to ensure that Apollo Beach remains a waterfront community. Their goal was to raise a quarter of a million dollars to dredge the north, south and main channels leading into the community from Tampa Bay. After countless fundraisers, monthly meetings, open houses and words (and no small amount of dollars) of support from area businesses, county officials and consultants, that goal has been reached with a final fundraiser held on Sunday. ABWIG turned three years of work into success.

“This is the final event,” said Len Berkstresser of ABWIG from The Alley at South Shore on Big Bend Road in Riverview.  “We are at $227,000 right now and we hope that this will be a very successful event, picking up a few thousand more. We have a couple of outstanding donations that would then put us over our goal. 

Nearby, teams were preparing for a fundraising bowling tournament, dozens of items were on display for a silent auction and outside in the parking lot more than a dozen classic cars were strutting their shiny, chrome stuff, all in an effort to cross the $250,000 finish line.

“We’ve said all along that this is about property values and about maintaining our way of life,” Berkstresser continued. “This is a water community, that is why people come down here and buy homes here. If word gets out that you can’t get a boat in or out of here that will hurt property values. Whether or not you live on the water, your property is impacted by comps. If the comps go up, everyone’s value goes up.”

ABWIG has additionally stressed that the existing and new residents buying those homes are the customers for all of the businesses in the community and the surrounding area.

And with the group’s final fundraiser now in the rear view mirror, what will happen to ABWIG?

“It will go dormant,” Berkstresser said. “It doesn’t go away, the website will still be up so people can find out about the latest and greatest things. But this sort of thing only needs to be done every 10 or 15 years. We’ll keep some money in the bank for future use and because we have the responsibility for maintaining all of those channel markers.  But all the activity over the past three years, the monthly meetings and the open houses, that all will stop.”

And now organizers are hoping the county will step up to the plate so a group of private citizens doesn’t have to do this again when, inevitably, it will be needed.

“What is really going to happen is we are going to have to go into a Phase II mode,” Berkstresser said. “We are putting it back (the channels) to the way it was. Now, the county has the perfect opportunity to take this and maintain it.  There have been no funds ever put aside for the maintenance — and that doesn’t even count the canals, which is another issue entirely. If they could just put $50,000 aside for each year, in 10 years they would have a half million dollars. They need to take the long-term view on this.”

And that long-term view could well mean additional property tax revenue for the county that could easily eclipse the relatively small quantity of funds put aside each year.

“I’m really happy about this,” Berkstresser continued. “Some people in town didn’t think we could do this. But after three years, it’s pretty rewarding.  We hope that today is a very successful event.”

Indeed it was. According to Berkstresser, ABWIG picked up $6,147 at their final fundraiser, enough to put them over their goal. And with that, three years of work ended with a big success.

The plan now moves to action with work beginning on the Apollo Beach Nature Park in June 2014. Dredging of the three channels is expected to begin in July 2014 and is expected to be complete by Nov. 1 of that year. The total project is expected to cost $1.5 million.

“The car show, the silent auction and all of the fun stuff we did at The Alley —we had about 250 people there and all of the sponsors,” Berkstresser said. “We want the community to know just how much we appreciate their support.”

For more information, visit www.abwig.org.

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