Non-profit group now has the ear of state politicians in attempt to reverse controversial measure taken in the early 1980s
By Phil Colpas
The Facebook group Open Midnight Pass, representing the 401(c)3 corporation Midnight Pass Society 2 Inc., reports that it is making strides toward reopening Midnight Pass, the naturally occurring waterway channel that separated Siesta Key from Casey Key until it was manually closed in 1983.
Proponents of reopening Midnight Pass point to the death and destruction of species and habitats, including marine life, sea birds and their respective ecosystems, that has occurred due to lack of aeration and circulation in the water since the pass was filled in.
Historical charts show that Midnight Pass naturally shifted both north and south throughout the 19th century. A hurricane in the 1920s caused a storm surge that stabilized the pass for about 60 years.
But then, in 1983, Midnight Pass drifted far enough north that it began encroaching on homes built on south Siesta Key. Two of the southernmost homes on the key were owned by well-known artist Syd Solomon and his neighbor Pasco Carter. Midnight Pass had migrated so close to Carter’s property that it destroyed his pool foundation.
Solomon and Carter sought the permission of the county and state government in order to “relocate” the pass farther south. This seemed ludicrous to many, who questioned why they were allowed to build homes there in the first place.
Nonetheless, in December of 1983, with emergency permits granted by the government, the existing pass was filled with sand.
Since it was deemed an emergency, no studies were done to determine how the waters could best be controlled. Engineers dredged a new pass farther away from the properties, but the natural flow of the water quickly filled the created channel with sand. While multiple dredging attempts were attempted — eight in all — the results were always the same: Mother Nature filled them in.
Efforts to reopen Midnight Pass have been ongoing since it was closed nearly 40 years ago. Longtime residents may remember the “Open Midnight Pass Now!” bumper stickers especially popular in the 1980s. Organizers of this latest iteration feel that the time is right for reopening.
Midnight Pass Society 2 Inc. is the brainchild of realtor Scott Lewis; local restaurateur Mike Evanoff is a founding board member.
The group shared its progress at a community workshop held at The Point in Osprey on May 22.
Evanoff said his group is working with engineers and environmentalists to properly plan to get Midnight Pass open.
“We’ve talked to (Congressman) Vern Buchanan, (Rep.) James Buchanan and (Gov.) Ron DeSantis about this so we’re actually pushing forward pretty quickly,” Evanoff said. “The key to this is for you guys to spread the word. Keep spreading the word to people. Go look at the water … and you can see how bad the quality is. The goal is water quality.”
If Midnight Pass is reopened, Scott Lewis explained, “The pass would create a sand block, or sand stop, providing the beaches to be renourished. Prior to the pass closing, the beaches on south Siesta Key, from Sanderling Club south, had never been renourished. Now they’ve been renourished twice, at a cost of $25 to $30 million, and now they want to do it again for the third time.”
According to Lewis, opening up the pass will facilitate beach renourishment.
“They actually have a 50-year plan of renourishment at these beaches without ever even opening up the pass,” he said. “The plan that we have creates what Mother Nature had, and that’s creating a northern channel and a southern channel. And that’s what worked for a hundred years previously.”
Longtime Siesta Key resident Dr. Gary Kompothecras is a proponent of opening Midnight Pass. He said a survey is being conducted to determine exactly where people stand on the issue.
“Everybody wants this and it’s the right thing to do,” Kompothecras said. “I think they’ll find about 90%” of Siesta Key residents support reopening the pass.”
According to Kompothecras, two of the main opponents against reopening the pass have gone away. One, famed author Stephen King who owns property on northern Casey Key, now supports reopening, allegedly because he was bothered by bicyclists on his property. And another Casey Key property owner who fought reopening has passed away.
“Vern Buchanan is 100% behind the project,” Kompothecras said. “And DeSantis seems good, but wants more information. We met with the Army Corp of Engineers, and they are for it.”
Local architects, lawyers and engineers are donating their time to the cause, Kompothecras said.
“The more awareness we can generate, the better,” Kompothecras said. “Sponsors are raising money to do studies. It’s all about water quality. Reduction of red tide. And you won’t have to burn all that gas to get to the Gulf. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Fundraisers, fishing tournaments and public meetings will follow the poll, Kompothecras said.
Since officially receiving non-profit status in December, more than $30,000 in donations have been collected by the group.
Those involved in trying to reopen Midnight Pass remain cautiously optimistic.
“I say we’re between 60 to 70% possibility of opening,” Lewis said. “Some days are better than others. It depends on the news coming down from the county.”
Midnight Pass 2 board member Dominic Marino urged concerned citizens to take up the cause.
“Together, we’re stronger,” he said. “The county commission works for us. The state works for us. Our concern is for the state, and the natural habitats and ecosystems of Florida. So please tune in and follow Midnight Pass on Facebook, follow SotaSupply on Instagram, follow the Oyster Boys on Tik Tok and Twitter. Please join the fight.”
For more information, visit www.openmidnightpass.org.