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Date of Issue: January 11, 2007

Permit work under way for Holmes Beach preserve

grassy point pic
A sign at the north end of Avenue C designates the Grassy Point preserve in Holmes Beach. Plans for the preserve involve exotic plant removal, revegetation and habitat restoration. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Gretchen Johansen walked across the parking lot of the Anna Maria Island Centre unaware of her close proximity to the undeveloped, protected property known as Grassy Point.

"I didn't know that was much more than a line of brush and trees," the Bradenton Beach seasonal resident said on a recent weekday morning as she looked beyond the traffic on East Bay Drive. "What's back there?"

Fishing enthusiasts, birders, walkers and conservationists who frequent the area north of Mike Norman Real Estate off East Bay drive and south of Sandy Point condos can answer that question. Herons, osprey, pelicans, vultures, fish at high tide, raccoons and squirrels can be found.

Another question might be what will be "back there" some day after restoration and re-vegetation involving the city of Holmes Beach, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and vested agencies at the state and federal level.

Work is under way to secure the government permits to remove invasive non-native plants and to restore the natural Florida habitat at Grassy Point so it can become a mangrove colony and sanctuary for Florida wildlife.

The project manager, Gary Raulerson, of Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, expects the permitting process to be complete within the next month.

"What we're doing, it isn't a lengthy process," Raulerson said.

The review period for federal and state agencies, including with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, might be longer if the project involved mitigation of wetlands, but it doesn't, he said. The project involves restoration, not development.

The project is on schedule, with the earthwork likely to be completed this summer, Raulerson added.

"Restoration activities will ... improve tidal circulation and re-establish natural hydroperiods," according to a project outline from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Restoration will eliminate non-native plant species, thus contributing to the recovery of natural mangrove, salt marsh and seagrass communities. It is believed that the loss of these vital habitats and associated declines in water quality have resulted in reduced fisheries in Sarasota Bay. It is estimated that Sarasota Bay is approximately 50 percent as productive as historically documented. The future of the bay's fisheries depends on the community's ability to restore and enhance wetlands and seagrass habitats and restore water quality."

The Grassy Point project is part of the comprehensive five-year habitat restoration plan SBEP created in 2003 to restore intertidal and submerged aquatic habitats and create artificial fishery habitat.

The city, using state funds, purchased large portions of Grassy Point in 2000.

The city commission in November 2006 authorized an agreement between the city and SBEP that set forth how the project should proceed, including funding. SBEP came up with 50 percent of the $80,000 needed for the first phase of the project, including $10,000 from the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service. Holmes Beach included the remaining $40,000 in its fiscal 2006-07 budget. About $30,000 of the funds will be used for permitting and planning and $50,000 for exotic removal, habitat restoration and maintenance.

Commissioners have said they hope Grassy Point could be similar to the larger Leffis Key/Coquina Baywalk preserve in Bradenton Beach.

"We're fortunate to have that area preserved on the Island," said Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino. "That's what the whole Island used to be, but there isn't much left. So I'm thrilled."

Zaccagnino said the preserved area is one of his favorite fishing spots.

Johansen said maybe Grassy Point will become one of her favorite thinking spots.

"We do have to cherish what we have left," she said.