For now, the Australian pine trees at John Chappie Gulfside Park will be trimmed.
At the March 21 capital improvement projects/city commission meeting, the future of the trees at the park, four lots on the Gulf of Mexico in the 1400 block of Gulf Drive, was handled in a sensitive manner with possible public input sought in the future.
Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby had brought the pine tree issue to the forefront of the CIP committee in February with initial discussions on how to enhance the park and also create an area for public beach access.
However, the discussion stalled with commissioners disagreeing on whether to remove the trees, listed as an invasive species and a nuisance by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Cosby returned the commissioners to the discussion at the March 21 meeting.
“We talked briefly about cutting some of the saplings back, and you can see the ones that are growing on the dune area by the roadway,” said Cosby. “Right now, it’s not an issue, but depending on how fast they grow, it could be.”
Cosby said Australian pines grow very fast, have no solid root support and can fall over during a light storm, creating a public danger.
“All of the smaller saplings are starting to grow, so if you don’t want to do anything, that’s fine. Our thought was anything under 4 feet, we should eradicate,” he said.
Cosby wanted to remove four mature trees from the dune, “but honestly I’m not concerned about those. I’m more concerned about the new ones coming up.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said the pines are a safety issue and should be removed, “because of any potential hurricane problem, and the expense of cleaning them up later. I recommend we take them out.”
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse and Vice Mayor Ed Straight agreed.
“I’m in agreement to take out the saplings, even though I can tell you from talking to people that they don’t care about any studies (on Australian pines),” said Straight. “They are just against trees going down, so I’d be in favor of taking out the small ones.”
Cosby said DEP’s minimum recommendation is to trim them down and remove any deadwood from the area.
“If we did that, it would be the minimum, and this area can stay the way it is until you come back with a type of plan for what you want to do with the park,” he said.
“If we don’t do this, it’s still going to be up to the city to maintain this,” he said.
Cosby said the matter could wait for commissioners to decide what to do with the park, and suggested that a public hearing be held to determine the park’s future, as well as the future of the trees.
The commission agreed to begin with the minimum DEP recommendations.
CIP members also agreed to accept the lone bid from Duncan Seawall to begin seawall improvements at Sixth Street South, Seventh Street South and 13th Street South.
The city put the project out for bid, but only Duncan had submitted a bid in February. The commissioners opted to stall the project for an additional 30 days in an attempt to get more bids, but none were submitted.
Six seawalls and associated docks have been selected for improvements, but due to budgetary limits, three projects were deemed a priority.
The project has been on the city’s radar dating back to the previous administration, and a $37,000 budget was established last year. The lone Duncan bid came in at $43,642, leaving the city with a $6,642 shortfall.
“Here’s the problem,” said Cosby. “If we don’t act on this sometime soon, the next time we go out for bid, Duncan’s not going to put a bid in either and then we won’t have anyone.”
Commissioner Gay Breuler asked city clerk Nora Idso if there was a way to get an additional $6,000.
“We can always take it out of the reserves, but you all know how I feel about that,” said Idso. “It’s unfortunate this was done at budget time, and when it came back to bid, (the amount budgeted) didn’t come to fruition. The short answer is yes.”
Cosby said the additional costs were likely due to the project being budgeted more than a year ago.
“This is another one of these projects that have been put off, and put off, and we talked ourselves right into a rate increase,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet and get it done before it gets worse.”
“We’ve put this off long enough,” he said. “We are going to get nickeled and dimed to death. It’s only going to come up again. It’s a $7,000 shortfall and if we have to kick the money in, then we have to kick it in. I hate to put projects off that need to be done and I would love to get this done before hurricane season.”
Breuler motioned to accept Duncan’s bid for $43,624 for the three prioritized seawalls. Vosburgh seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.