By John Morton
When Sarasota County commissioners agreed unanimously at their December retreat that cleaning-up Little Sarasota Bay was a priority, and that restoring Midnight Pass was central to that, Midnight Pass Society II sprang into action.
The group, which for more than a year has been fighting to gain support in restoring the waterway, has raised funds, held informational meetings, made public presentations, sold merchandise, and otherwise beat the drum in every which way. Now, it has more than just desire and enthusiasm on its side.
During the Jan. 12 Sarasota County Legislative Delegation meeting, state Sen Joe Gruters (who represents Sarasota County as part of District 22) asked for support to take the cause to Tallahassee during the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature.
“He’s 150% on board, and wants this pushed,” said Scott Lewis, a local resident who reignited the Midnight Pass effort by creating a RESTORE MIDNIGHT PASS NOW Facebook page that has more than 5,200 followers.
“Social media has made all the difference in the world,” he said. A previous effort by the original Midnight Pass Society never got much traction, and Lewis said a lack of public awareness played a role.
The pass, which was a natural waterway between Siesta Key and Casey Key that connected the Gulf of Mexico with Little Sarasota Bay, had sand brought in in 1983 in an effort to change the path of the flow. Two homeowners — Syd Solomon and Pasco Carter — had homes along the pass and they were at risk of water damage. Sarasota County approved the measure, with the homeowners promising to pay in part for the rerouting of the pass, but efforts failed and the parties gave up on the effort. Eventually, the pass closed up and subsequently choked off Little Sarasota Bay.
Now, Gruters will take the cause to the state in an effort to get commitments on studies and permits with a cure as the goal.
New county commissioners Mark Smith and Joe Neunder have also voiced support, noting Midnight Pass as a priority during their election campaigns.
Neunder even call it his No. 1 priority, and on Jan. 18 proposed to his fellow commissioners that a “Health and Quality of Little Sarasota Bay” initiative become part of the group’s strategic plan for 2023. The vote was unanimous in favor.
“I’ll be knocking on doors and getting opinions,” said Neunder, whose District 4 is home to Midnight Pass and who personally used to enjoy the waterway. “This has been an issue since I was a young man. There couldn’t be a better thing to get my arms around.”
Neunder has met with Congressman Greg Steube on the matter and plans to contact state Rep. Fiona McFarland, who represents Siesta Key, on the issue.
Stube has publicly voiced his support.
“Dr. Gary (Kompothecras) deserves a lot of credit for bringing Steube on board,” Lewis said of the Siesta Key resident and businessman.
Meanwhile, Gruters has extended an invitation for members of Midnight Pass Society II to make a trip to Tallahassee in late March to meet with key lawmakers and agencies.
“That would be another big step for getting out the word and hopefully opening up the pass,” Lewis said. “There is a lot of money out there for cleaning up our waters. There’s a real desire to help our manatees, to save our sea grass.”
In the next month, members of Midnight Pass Society II will be writing letters to lawmakers to express the urgency of the matter.
Other concerned residents will soon be asked to do the same.
“It’s become a real group effort at this point,” Lewis said. “We just brought on 36 new members (to the Facebook page) yesterday.”
The group has now raised in excess of $80,000, Lewis reports, and has hired an engineer and public relations specialist. Otherwise, the group’s members are all volunteers.
Lewis said it is searching for an expert in hydraulics to join the board, and needs a volunteer coordinator and an event coordinator.
“We hope to have a gala sometime soon,” Lewis said.
Visit restoremidnightpassnow.org for information on how to help.
Support has also come from the business community.
Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, the Old Salty Dog on City Island donated $1 to Midnight Pass Society II for every 16-ounce Kona Big Wave draft it sold.
Meanwhile, Siesta Key Rum has created a special “Let it Flow” rum, using an expression that’s popular with the cause, and is donating 10% of every sale.
“Everyone wants to see this happen,” Lewis said. “We are receiving little to no opposition.
“The bay is in cardiac arrest. Something needs to be done.”