Getting Your Phil: September

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It behooves developers to remember we’re a barrier island

By Phil Colpas

As the development debate rages on — Density? Hotels? How much is too much? — it is useful

to remember just what we are talking about building upon.

At its surface, it doesn’t sound like a bad problem to have: “The place where I live is so popular

that it is in danger of overbuilding.” But fueled by the pandemic, the fact is that Florida — and in

particular the Suncoast — is getting progressively more and more crowded every day. Word is

that about a thousand people, give or take, are moving to Florida every day. This is according to

Jason Frank, traffic officer, Sarasota Police Department.

Of those thousand, it’s a safe bet that many are headed right here, to our own beloved island of

Siesta Key. And this is in addition to the ever-increasing number of tourists who visit Sarasota

and the beaches every year.

Siesta Key is classified as a barrier island, which is, as defined by the Smithsonian Institute, an

accumulation of sand that isn’t permanent. That’s right! It’s perfectly natural for barrier islands to

build up and erode on a regular basis, sometimes even washing away completely.

But the impermanence of the land is not enough to dissuade people from building on it.

Apparently, curb appeal trumps just about everything else. The irony is that, the more that

people interfere by attempting to mold the ever-changing coastline to their well-heeled will, the

more unstable things become.

Storms can very quickly transform waterfront property into underwater property, and eliminate

wide swaths of beaches to nothing in the blink of an eye.

Beachfront property offers wonderful views of the ocean, but destroying sand dunes to bring the

beach closer makes it impossible for the sand dunes to do their job of protecting the island. The

opposite is also true: Adding sand in an effort to stabilize one area can exacerbate erosion

somewhere else.

Too much construction reduces the effectiveness of a barrier island, and building on it can

eliminate important ecosystems, such as salt marshes and dunes, that in turn protect the island

and mainland from powerful storms.

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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