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Skyway demo project, reef finalized

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Crews remove the last of 48 spans and supports taken from the former Sunshine Skyway Bridge, now the south fishing pier, to help with the formation of two new artificial reefs in Tampa Bay. Islander Photo: Courtesy DEP/Audrey Clarke

Florida Department of Transportation press release last week said demolition of a number of portions of the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers has been completed with only some minor work remaining.

The DOT demolition project began in June 2011 when contractor Orion Marine Construction began removal of 27 portions of the north fishing pier and 48 from the south pier.

Renovations were made to the rest rooms and bait shops on both piers. The bait shops are open 24/7, the DOT said.

The project was needed to remove structurally unsafe portions of the fishing piers — originally sections of the Skyway Bridge that collapsed in a May 1980 crash — due to age and corrosion, the DOT said.

In Aug. 2008, the DOT and Florida Department of Environmental Protection closed the east sides of the fishing piers to maintain public safety. The western sides remained open during the project and continue to be accessible.

Some of the demolished pilings were used by the Manatee County natural resources department to create two new fishing reefs in Tampa Bay within the county limits.

One reef, the Three-Mile North Reef, is located about 3 miles west of the Manatee Public Beach in water approximately 30 feet deep.

The second reef — Southeast Reef — is about 3 miles north of Emerson Point in about 15 feet of water. David Lai Hipp of Manatee County’s natural resources department said the reefs are already attracting large numbers of baitfish, which in turn are drawing mangrove snapper, barracuda, redfish and gag grouper to the sites.

Lai Hipp said when he dove the southeast reef several months ago, he found a number of snook in the area, which he said was unusual for a submerged reef.

Fishing at both reefs will only improve as the reefs continue to grow, he said. Scuba divers also can use the reefs, he said.

Precise coordinates for the reefs are available at www.mymanatee.org on the natural resources department page, Lai Hipp said. Click on “artificial reefs,” then click on “reef map” under “Manatee County Artificial Reef Brochure.”

A map showing the precise coordinates of all 13 Manatee County artificial reefs is available at the site.

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