By John Morton
Sarasota County was able to enjoy its Midnight Pass financial boost for only a little more than a month.
On June 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated from the state budget the $1 million the Florida Legislature had approved as a starting point for research, design and permitting for the potential of restoring the waterway that once ran between Siesta Key and Casey Key.
Said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Neunder, whose District 4 seat lies in the territory where Midnight Pass once existed, “Water quality here in Sarasota County has always been a high priority to me and the community I grew up in and serve. I will continue to explore options readily available to our community and look forward to potential paths that could lead to this endeavor being a reality.”
It was one of three Sarasota County projects axed by the governor, bringing the ire of Joe Gruters, the Sarasota-based state senator, who publicly stated that DeSantis’ actions were likely politically motivated. Gruters, who formerly chaired the state’s Republican Party, has endorsed Donald Trump. DeSantis said in March that he’d run against the former president.
“Extremely disappointing,” is how District 2 commissioner Mark Smith described the cut, “if indeed Gov. DeSantis vetoed the $1 million budgeted for Midnight Pass because of Sen. Gruters’ support for Trump. He’s assuming that the Midnight Pass issue in Sarasota County wouldn’t negatively impact his campaign in the primary, and I’m not sure that’s the case.”
Sarasota County leaders in December proclaimed during their annual retreat that improved water quality in Little Sarasota Bay would be a priority in 2023, acknowledging that Midnight Pass – closed in the early ‘80s by the county when two homeowners complained their houses were being threatened with the plan to reroute the waterway – would be a focal point in reaching that goal.
Mike Evanoff, chairman of the non-profit Midnight Pass Society II that for two years has served as a community rallying group, hopes all involved will continue to press ahead despite the setback.
“I’m disappointed that the governor turned his back on this important water-quality issue,” said Evanoff, who has a business in Osprey that sits on Little Sarasota Bay. “We remain steadfast in our support of the county commission … we look forward to working with our local leaders to overcome this political setback.”
Jim Herbert, a leader with the original Midnight Pass Society group that existed between 1984 and 2015, hopes the new support group will continue to provide a big push toward a solution.
“The influential leaders of Midnight Pass Society II are going to have to redouble their efforts to convince the governments on the local, state and federal levels of the importance of this restoration project,” Herbert said.
Sarasota County leaders have yet to decide upon the plan of attack that re-establishes a tidal flow between the Gulf of Mexico and Little Sarasota Bay. Dredging a navigable path (like the original waterway), installation of an underground pipe, or the creation of a large culvert are among the current considerations.
Midnight Pass Society II will hold a community information event at noon July 8 at The Point Restaurant, 135 Bayview Drive, in Osprey. The business, owned by Evanoff, is located on Little Sarasota Bay.