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Date of Issue: February 27, 2008

Grassy Point may need new study

A map from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program shows the location of Grassy Point, as well as other parks and preserves in SBEPís project area.
Grassy Point lies to the south of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on the east shore of Holmes Beach. City officials and scientists with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program continue to work to obtain the permission needed to create a preserve there.

Another review – this time an archeological survey - may be needed before site work can begin at the Grassy Point preserve in Holmes Beach.

Holmes Beach city officials thought they were nearly finished with the permitting process for transforming the land purchased in 2000 into a nature preserve. In October 2007, the Southwest Water Management District approved a permit - good for five years - for habitat restoration in the 34-acre aquatic preserve.

But, according to Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, an archeological survey of the site may also be required by the Florida Department of Historical Resources.

“I didn’t think we needed the survey,” Bohnenberger said. “It’s for the entire Grassy Point area.”

Officials with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, city hall’s partner in the project, also thought the survey unnecessary.

“We’re trying to work through the archaeology question right now with the state,” said SBEP senior scientist Gary Raulerson. “We had a local expert do a quick once-over on the site and … he didn’t think a large-scale survey is warranted. We are waiting for a response from the state.”

The local expert, Terra Ceia archeologist Bill Burger, drafted a recent letter outlining his position.

Burger said he examined historical information at the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, including aerial photographs.

“This review and my field visit indicate that the low peninsular upland on the parcel is a natural feature,” Burger said. “It was likely created by a past west-to-east overwash of shelly sand from the Gulf side of Anna Maria. It is of low elevation … with much of the landform feathering down into the surrounding mangrove swamp.”

Burger also wrote that some elevated areas appear to be made of redeposited spoil from the complex of adjacent drainage ditches excavated during the 1950s/early 1960s. The small ‘island’ off the northeastern tip of the peninsula is entirely redeposited spoil.”

In other words, it doesn’t appear that the restoration of Grassy Point will impact any historical resources.

Burger said he inspected the area, including the spoil piles within the mangrove swamp, and did not see “any indications of anthropogenic activities. This was rather surprising, given that this landform located so close to the bay would have made an ideal location for a prehistoric occupation producing shell-midden debris. The reason for the absence of any evidence of such use here might be the presence of the very large Perico Island archaeological complex located directly across the bay.”

After the matter of the archeological study is resolved, local officials expect to forge ahead with creating the preserve.

Tied into the preserve project - up to but not through the protected site - will be a golf cart crossing at East Bay and Gulf drives.

“It is the only place we can bring them across the road,” the mayor said, adding that permission to cross State Road 789 at that location will further open the city to golf-cart cruising. He said the carts could “loop behind Mike Norman Realty.”

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 an artificial fishery habitat.

Using state funds in 2000, the city purchased large portions of Grassy Point, the area generally north of Mike Norman Realty on Gulf Drive at East Bay Drive and south of Sandy Point condos.

In November 2006, the city commission 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 is providing the remaining $40,000. About $30,000 of the funds will be used for permitting and planning and $50,000 for exotic removal, habitat restoration and maintenance.

“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.”

Much of last year was spent preparing permit applications for submission for state and federal review of the project, which includes the installation of an elevated boardwalk in sections, an observation tower and an observation platform at the shore of Anna Maria Sound.