A woman who walks her dog twice every day noticed a marked difference in scenery on one of her walks last month to the bayfront end of 28th Street, and reported it to Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen at one of her coffee-with-commissioner events in January.
“I saw a yard guy cutting down trees — at least two — and also saw the mangroves had been cut,” said Janet Fitzgerald of 29th Street, who said she has been walking the same route for two years.
Construction trailers from a stormwater project had been parked there, she said, but once removed, she saw the clearing.
And now there’s a view over the cut mangroves on the stretch of vacant land at the end of the street, and an extensive clearing across from the last house on the street, she said.
“It gets me very upset when I hear the chain saws going,” she said. Fitzgerald has lived on the Island since the 1970s, and appreciates mangroves for the shade, wildlife nesting and spawning areas and the coastal protection they provide.
Fitzgerald said she thought the property might have been city owned, and did not know who to report to on the matter.
Holmes Beach Police Department Lt. Dale Stephenson filed a police report Feb. 3, stating he spoke with one neighbor who said, “new owners of 418 28th St. had a crew cut back the area.”
Stephenson said the mangroves were cut across from the last house on the south side of the street, and possibly also on the city’s right of way at the end of the street. He said the state may share jurisdiction of some of the property seaward of the mean high water line.
The police report states that the Manatee County Property Appraiser lists a new owner with a West Virginia address for the property at the bayfront end of the street.
Stephenson has since referred the matter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for investigation.
DEP external affairs manager Ana Gibbs said the agency has not issued a permit for mangrove trimming in the 28th Street area. She also said an inspector has visited the site and determined the affected area consists of 126 linear feet of shoreline, although there is yet no report from the DEP.
Holmes Beach public works superintendent Joe Duennes said the vacant land on the north side of the street are platted lots. A check of Manatee County records indicates the properties are in private ownership.
Duennes said the dead end of the street is either under state or county control. The city’s jurisdiction is within the 50-foot-wide 28th street right of way, he said.
Two areas appear to be trimmed, one near the dead end and across from the last house on the south side of the street, and another in a stretch of vacant bayfront lots on the north side.
The trimmed area, which includes mangroves of approximately 3-4 foot height, is reportedly part of a maintenance agreement provided by a landscape architect, also a neighbor, who has been caring for it for decades.
That neighbor declined comment.
The city public works department reportedly maintains some areas and mows the rights of way on 28th Street.
Peelen pointed out the 28th Street property is near Grassy Point, the city’s 34-acre bayfront preserve. She said the mangroves are important to the Island — they “hold it together.”
“DEP always prefers to provide compliance assistance,” said Gibbs about mangrove trimming. “Our goal is to keep applicants and homeowners in compliance with the rules of the state of Florida. We encourage them to come in for a pre-application meeting with one of our permit processors, which is free of cost. This helps the homeowner know what authorizations may be required for the proposed project.”
In the event of cutting without a permit, Gibbs said, “violations are evaluated on a case by case basis. Some cases involve restoration, however, depending on the circumstances, sometimes administrative costs and penalties are imposed.”