Getting Your Phil: April

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Talking development, sand, and more sand

By Phil Colpas

With all of the hullabaloo lately about whether big development on Siesta Key (read “hotels”) is a good idea, I thought it might be a good time to look at what a barrier island actually is, and how too much development can threaten the very island itself.

By their very nature, barrier islands are malleable. The movement of sand, erosion, accretion — all of these are part of their makeup.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a barrier island is a constantly changing deposit of sand that forms parallel to the coast:

Barrier islands form as waves repeatedly deposit sediment parallel to the shoreline. As wind and waves shift according to weather patterns and local geographic features, these islands constantly move, erode and grow. They can even disappear entirely.

Tidal creeks, bays, and lagoons typically separate barrier islands from the mainland. The side facing the sea, or in our case, the Gulf of Mexico, may have beaches, dune systems, or marshes; while the side facing the bay may contain tidal flats and maritime forests. Barrier islands are an important habitat for seabirds, fish, shellfish and nesting sea turtles.

The U.S. has several barrier islands off its east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal communities and ecosystems rely on these islands for protection against extreme weather events. Barrier islands’ beach dunes and grasses absorb the energy of waves, resulting in less flooding and a smaller storm surge on the islands and on the mainland the barrier islands are protecting.

But the barrier islands are disappearing. Erosion is exacerbated by human development. The amount of sand and sediment that is available to fortify barrier islands is lessened by infrastructure, damming and dredging projects. Rapid sea level rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change can also increase erosion.

A few concerned citizens have filed suit against construction of the hotels, alleging the county did not follow the rules pertaining to amending the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and that it unlawfully exceeded its own laws concerning transient density on barrier islands. Other civic groups, including the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Coalition, have been outspoken opponents of these hotels.

If the recent past is any indication, the county commission has shown itself to be on the side of developers. While most agree that responsible development is good, just from a geological perspective, the more that humans displace the sand that comprises the island itself, the less capable the island will be at defending itself and protecting the coastline.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

SKA asks county to pause approval of Turtle Beach repairs

Speaking of the SKA, in February, organization member Bob Luckner requested that the county commission pause approval of Turtle Beach repairs to consider new facts and to accept comments from Siesta residents. Originally scheduled for 2026, the project may be moved ahead to 2024 as a result of FEMA-requested changes. Specifics of the project, such as sand specifications, are yet to be finalized. SKA asked for a presentation by the county on the project at a future SKA meeting.

The next meeting of the SKA is 4:30 to 6 p.m. April 7., at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Rd.

Sand sculpture contest — the 49th annual! — is set for May

Celebrating its 49th Anniversary in 2022, the Siesta Sand Sculpture Contest for amateurs is slated for Saturday, May 7, at Siesta Key Public Beach. The event has become an annual “must see” for remaining snowbirds, vacationers and locals alike, and the competition has been featured on the Travel Channel.

With several categories of competitors: Adult Humorous, Adult Miscellaneous, Children 10 and under, and Youth 11-17, there are more than enough talented sculptors to watch as they toil on their creations. The contest is free and open to all.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at Siesta Key Beach just south of the pavilion. Judging commences at about 1 p.m. and winners are announced around 2 p.m.

Judging is usually done by a local group of celebrities and/or art aficionados.

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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