By John Morton
About $84 million. That’s what a Sarasota County staff-assignment report said it would cost to open and maintain Midnight Pass – the former waterway between Siesta Key and Casey Key – during a nine-year period. That number comes off a 2009 study that estimated $61 million for such an endeavor, with inflation now added.
It originally included $13.9 million for the construction of the new pass and $37 million for a beach nourishment project.
The report was requested unanimously Sept. 13 by the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners, initiated by outgoing District 2 Commissioner Christian Ziegler who told the board he is often engaged in meetings from those seeking to restore the natural waterway that the county in 1983 chose to close. At that time, homeowners Syd Solomon and Pasco Carter said their homes were under threat of being destroyed by the waters that connected the Gulf of Mexico and Little Sarasota Bay, and if the inlet was filled-in they said they would pay for the pass to be rerouted. Soon thereafter, they said they ran out of money and gave up.
The board has not commented on the report and it has not been on an agenda. No funding for such a project exists in the county budget as of now.
The staff report also outlined several attempts in the past by the county to address the issue, including in 1984, 1988, and 2003, with no success. The 2003 effort was rejected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, prompting the county to rescind its application to both that entity and the Army Corps of Engineers. Those two agencies have the final say on the matter.
That 2003 decision prompted a group of citizens named Midnight Pass Society to advocate for a solution, and when it fizzled out a new group named Midnight Pass Society II to emerge last year.
Scott Lewis, a local Realtor who is part of the new effort, created a RESTORE MIDNIGHT PASS NOW Facebook page, currently with more than 5,000 followers. He also established a non-profit 501(c)(3) designation in order to collect donations that are tax deductible in order to fund studies and marketing.
When asked about the county report’s $84 million, Lewis considered it far from daunting when you consider the results.
“Just the increase in value of properties on Siesta Key and the mainland would make up for that in no time,” said Lewis, referring to what he considers a stagnate Little Sarasota Bay as a result of a lack of waterflow. “Plus, the commerce alone – between the waterfront establishments, fishing, boating, and all the recreational activities that have been impacted.
“When it comes to the clarity of the bay, there’s no price on that.”
Meanwhile, his group is coming off a successful public gathering Nov. 13 at Evie’s at Spanish Point where about 150 attendees gathered. The event featured a speech by Dave Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
Midnight Pass Society II collected more than $15,000 in donations, Lewis reported, including $5,000 from Siesta Key resident Mike Holderness’ Beachside Management business. The overall total reached three-fourths of the group’s $20,000 fundraising goal.