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Date of Issue: February 08, 2007

Coquina Beach Trail draws residents' ire

coquina pic
Coming down
Workers with Billy Hay Excavating were busy last week removing Australian pine trees from Cortez Beach in preparation of a multi-use trail that will be constructed from Fifth Street South to the Longboat Bridge in Bradenton Beach. Residents have objected to the number of trees "sacrificed." Islander Photo: Paul Roat

Construction began last week on the long-anticipated Coquina Beach Trail, a meandering 8-foot-wide asphalt pathway that will run along the west side of Gulf Drive between the parking lots and beach from Fifth Street South to the Longboat Bridge in Bradenton Beach.

And nearby residents are fuming.

Manatee County has taken the lead in the 1.3-mile-long project, and preliminary plans called for the removal of some 40 Australian pine trees to make way for the path.

However, residents said that at least 66 trees have been removed, and they said that it appears that 90 pines are earmarked for removal - and most of them appear to be along Cortez Beach, denuding the shady parking area.

"The charm of the area is in the Australian pines," said Gail Blackmore, who with her husband Robin lives on Ninth Street South. "It seems sad. They aren’t native, but there are lots of things in Florida that aren’t native."

"We’re upset about the removal of the pines," said Robin Blackmore. "Could it be possible to adjust the path so those not in danger of falling could be retained?" he asked the Bradenton Beach City Commission last Thursday.

Probably not, said Mayor John Chappie.

"This has been in the planning stages for several years," he said. "Some of the trees will be replaced with cabbage palms, native plants, and they’re trying not to take down a lot of the pines, especially at Cortez Beach."

Chappie said he would contact the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department to see if a path re-alignment could keep more of the trees.

Manatee County Parks Project Manager Tom Yarger said original plans called for 37 pines to be removed. He confirmed that 66 trees would have to be taken down. "Not all of the trees are in the Cortez Beach area," he said, "but a lot of them are, unfortunately."

He said that the trail configuration was somewhat constrained, and to keep parking at the public beach, the extra tree removal was required.

However, Yarger said he hoped to draw trees from a special "tree trust fund" within Manatee County to replace native Florida shade trees in the areas where the pines have been removed after the project has been completed.

Billy Hay Excavating is doing the work, which besides the path will include bike racks, water fountains, benches, bollards and rope in some locations to keep vehicles and pathway patrons separated.

Cost of the project has been estimated to be about $392,000.