Midnight Pass now on county’s radar

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By John Morton

Will the ultimate foe nearly 40 years ago become an ally for those who want to see Midnight Pass restored?

That could become the case, as the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 13 voted unanimously to ask its staff to research and report back on the issue that caused the waterway between Siesta Key and Casey Key to close and choke-off Little Sarasota Bay. It’s the county that, in 1983, was persuaded by two homeowners to try and reroute the pass because their swimming pools were in danger of shifting sands. The endeavor did not work.

Midnight Pass prior to being filled-in with sand and rerouted.

It was Commissioner Christian Ziegler who suggested the study. He represents District 2, which includes the northern half of Siesta Key. The issue with the pass has been contentious, with previous groups failing to make progress, and Commissioner Nancy Detert was adamant that the exploration this time around not be about restoring the pass as much as it be about preserving water quality.

 “This can’t be an ‘Open Midnight Pass’ statement,” Detert said.  “You take away a lot of the fighting and the controversy. I don’t want to go planting my flag on the wrong hill with the wrong opening salvo that’s going to set off a bomb.”

Detert also suggested that the initiative could piggy-back on other area water-quality studies, making it part of a larger picture. She said the non-profit Argus Foundation, which specializes in providing leadership to community issues, addressed the pass with her during a recent discussion.

“They agreed that they’d rather see an overall plan for that area,” Detert said, noting the group may be willing to pay for some consulting work related to the issue.

A new day, a new approach

Strategic phrasing is indeed  important, Ryan Christine told the Siesta Key Association at its Oct. 13 meeting. He’s a member of Midnight Pass Society II, and gave a presentation with fellow members Mike Evanoff and Scott Lewis.

The group originally created an OPEN MIDNIGHT PASS NOW Facebook page, which has 5,000 followers to date, but changed its title to RESTORE MIDNIGHT PASS NOW.

“I think it was the wrong approach, the wrong phrasing,” said Christine when asked why he thought this effort would succeed when others haven’t. “It’s open vs. restore. And that will make a difference in the permitting process.”

Added Lewis, “When we first used the word ‘open,’ some people thought we were trying to create a new eco system. we just want it back the way it naturally was. This is a man-made problem we have now.”

The group has raised $50,000 to date, spending about $30,000 on a coastal engineer.

“We still have community interest in this,” Lewis said. “It’s a legacy issue. The time is right now.”

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, agreed that the timing is good.

“This is different now,” she said. “Water quality is so important.”

Evanoff, who owns Evie’s at Spanish Point on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey, has seen firsthand the results of the bay becoming stagnant. With the pass closed up, the stretch of beach without an inlet goes from Big Pass, north of Siesta key, all the way down to Venice.

“The bay is changing for the worse,” he said. “It’s dying.”

Added Christine, “Not only will this bring environmental impacts, but economic benefits.”

Christine also noted that the endeavor was in no way to give local boaters easier access to the Gulf of Mexico, which has been a comment from some opponents.

“It’s not a navigational issue,” he said. “That’s not part of our mission. It’s only about water quality.”

 Mark Smith, the Siesta Key resident who is running for the Sarasota County Commission seat held by Ziegler, shared stories at the meeting with Lewis about how he enjoyed swimming in Midnight pass as a child. If elected, he said, the issue would be “one of my prime topics.”

“God willing, we are going to open this pass,” he added.

Residents study some Midnight Pass-related educational material on display at the Oct. 13 Siesta Key Association meeting. (photo by John Morton)

Lewis called the county’s potential interest a “big step,” especially regarding the permitting process. The three entities involved with rerouting the pass would be the county, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Evanoff said the FDEP would have final say on a decision.

As for the engineering study, conducted by Dr. Weiqi Lin, it resulted in the following goals as summarized by Midnight Pass Society II:

(1) Design a two-channel pass system that has been the characteristic for Midnight Pass ever since 1927, until it was closed by man in 1983 through dredging north and south channel.

(2) To create an ebb shoal and sand bars to protect Turtle Beach as the Midnight Pass used to have before 1983.

(3) To use dredged beach-quality sand to nourish Turtle Beach and/or North Casey Key beach. This is a beach restoration as a byproduct of a re-open of Midnight Pass.

(4) To restore Midnight Pass navigation and recreational uses as it provided before.

(5) Restore water quality to its condition prior to its closure in 1983.

(6) Restore ecosystem to a condition that Midnight Pass used to have.

(7) Restore fishery, marine life, etc. resulting in better Little Sarasota Bay life conditions by restoring the Little Sarasota Bay and connecting bays with the flow of fresh Gulf waters.

Meanwhile, the group will hold a community meeting that is open to the public at noon on Sunday, Nov. 13 at Evie’s Spanish Point, 135 Bayview Dr., in Osprey. The meeting was first slated for Oct. 15 but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Ian.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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