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Date of Issue: May 14, 2008

Grassy Point may need new study

Under construction
Workers are removing exotic species of plants and trees at the Holmes Beach Grassy Point preserve, with work expected to be completed by the end of June. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

Exotic tree and plant removal at the 34-acre Grassy Point property in Holmes Beach began last week, with a completion date on the $91,000 project expected to be late June.

However, exotic removal only a part of the first phase, with further efforts to include planting native species to replace the losses, and only affects about one-third of the preserve.

The project includes a boardwalk, informative signage and other amenities to the bayfront park at the intersection of Gulf Drive and East Bay Drive and running north to near Manatee Avenue.

In October 2007, the Southwest Water Management District approved a permit - good for five years - for habitat restoration in the 34-acre aquatic 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,” Mayor Rich Bohnenberger has 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.

In November 2006, the city commission authorized an agreement between the city and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program that set forth how the project would proceed, including funding. SBNP 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 are 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.”

The Grassy Point property was purchased for a preserve by the city of Holmes Beach, with the effort launched in the late 1990s by former Commissioner Billie Martini.