Local channel dredging takes on a global aspect

Published on: December 29, 2011

Dan Winegrad (left) and Maj. Gen. Mike Jones, (Ret.) (right) of Mirabay and Len Berkstresser, ABWIG president, (center) accepting the contribution. Melody Jameson Photo

Dan Winegrad (left) and Maj. Gen. Mike Jones, (Ret.) (right) of Mirabay and Len Berkstresser, ABWIG president, (center) accepting the contribution. Melody Jameson Photo


APOLLO BEACH – Aiming for a channel dredging solution that won’t have to be soon repeated, the spearheading organization here is considering a more global approach to the problem.

And in the process, ABWIG – the Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group – is drawing into its circle both non-profit and for-profit entities with interests in protecting the assets of Tampa Bay. The effort promises possible application of proven technology new to the area as well as comprehensive cooperation among agencies and entities.

And, in the meantime, the group is continuing its funds raising endeavors, approaching a six-figure kitty.

Organized originally about 20 years ago, ABWIG at that time raised about $60,000 in contributions from the community to clean major canals of silt well enough that boat owners could depart from and return to their backyard docks without running most pleasure vessels aground. The mission completed for the time being, the organization then effectively disbanded.

Over time, however, the silt returned and the expense of removing it escalated. A Hillsborough County proposal to create special taxing districts within the waterfront community that would allow immediate coverage of canal dredging costs and repayment with interest annually in future years, has not been embraced by many waterfront homeowners.

And, earlier this year, ABWIG was re-instituted, its members determined to generate about $350,000 for dredging three main channels – the north cut between the public park at the end of Surfside Boulevard and Tampa Electric’s Big Bend plant, the south channel serving Andalucia’s boat owning residents, plus the cut from the south channel into Symphony Isles and MiraBay.

With state and federal permits in hand – permits carrying specific deadlines – ABWIG’s first concept involved dredging the most southerly channels and depositing the fill on an unoccupied, nearby spit of land known as Sunset Isle. Dredged material from the north channel also might be deposited in that location, but transporting it there represents a substantial cost.

Even with the obstacles overcome and the objectives met, however, the ABWIG board recognizes that without additional preventions the channels again will re-silt, Len Berkstresser, chairman, noted this week. Consequently, the group has begun investigating more comprehensive approaches.

One is the use of WADDs – wave attenuation and deterrent devices – along crucial areas such as the bay and channel sides of the park shoreline to redirect the natural wave action that washes away shores and re-deposits the material where it is unwanted. The hollow but heavy concrete WADDS made in several sizes are a product of Living Shoreline Solutions, Inc., a Dade City-based company headed by a retired executive, Thomas Brown.

A sequence of WADDs recently was installed around the northern face of Sunken Island near the mouth of the Alafia River in order to preserve the eroding island shoreline of this important Tampa Bay bird sanctuary. Costs were shared by Mosaic, whose phosphate processing plant is routinely served by freighters and barges moving in and out of the river as it empties into the bay, and by Audubon, which obtained grants for the project.

Brown explained the project and described the WADD construction for ABWIG board members during their December meeting. WADDS have been used in dozens of shoreline saving programs around the world for years and have not once failed, Brown has said.

Berkstresser said this week that the WADDs concept offers the added advantage of enhancing marine life, becoming individual nurseries or hatcheries as each unit settles, with the nursery effect eventually aiding several fisheries.

In addition, ABWIG is involving both Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose district includes AB, along with the county’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department in its planning, recognizing the county has a long term interest in protecting the AB park shoreline, Berkstresser said.

And, in January, he said, board members expect to host Peter Arndt, representing Tampa Bay Watch, to hear a report on the health of the bay at the outset of 2012.

To date, ABWIG has raised through its various outreaches nearly $80,000, with the most recent donation coming from the MiraBay Mariners in the amount of $1,025, the chairman added. Its fund raising got big boosts earlier from Tampa Electric Company, which has contributed $35,000 to the effort, and from Symphony Isles, which kicked in another $30,000 to help underwrite the dredging project. Still another donation of $5,000 has been pledged, but not yet received, Berkstresser said.

In keeping with its more comprehensive approach, ABWIG also is applying for extensions of its three critical permits. One issued by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, originally to expire in 2013, has been extended by two years to 2015, while two more extension applications, to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and to the Tampa Port Authority, currently are pending, Berkstresser noted.

The ABWIG project now has “a lot of moving parts,” the chairman acknowledged. But, he added, the objective remains to raise and expend monies in a manner getting the most value for each dollar while bringing all the players with interests at stake into the mix to encourage a cooperative, global solution that is longer lasting. The project will happen, even if in phases over a span of two or three years, he asserted, with the first dredging very possibly getting underway in March, 2012.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson