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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Sandscript

Passing thoughts on Midnight Pass; spider tales
Almost 20 years to the day that Midnight Pass was closed, Sarasota County Commissioners will receive a report arguing that the inlet between Siesta and Casey keys could and should be re-opened.

The new consultant's report also almost exactly mimics a 20-year-old report that reached the same conclusions if the pass were re-opened, it would probably stay open.

The story of the pass is a perfect example of what goes around comes around.

Midnight Pass also is a saga of what happens when humans mess with Mother Nature. The inlet has existed in one form or another since the mid-1800s, migrating along a swath of beach that encompassed about three miles or more, sometimes wide and straight, sometimes narrow and twisting, but always serving as a tidal exchange between the Gulf of Mexico and Little Sarasota Bay.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through its dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1960s, is probably the precursor of the demise of the inlet. When the channel was dug through Little Sarasota Bay, inlet dynamics changed in the region, and more water began to flow through the channel than through the pass.

The Gulf-bay exchange of water was slowed, and shoals began to build both in and out of the inlet, choking the channel into a narrower and faster waterway. Wind and storms altered the course of the channel, lacking any artificial means to direct its path like jetties or groins, and the pass began to migrate northward.

Unfortunately, the pass took a path directly toward two expansive Gulffront homes and, in the early 1980s, the pass was starting to lap at the pool of one home.

The homeowners one was internationally renown artist Syd Solomon begged county and state officials for relief. Their plan was to fill in the pass in front of their homes and dig another channel farther away from their property, all at their own expense, if official permits could be granted.

After a lively debate that stretched for months, the permits were eventually granted and, on Dec. 5, 1983, the pass was closed and a new channel dredged farther from the expensive homes.

The new channel closed.
It was re-dredged.
Closed again.
Re-dredged.
Closed.

After eight or so attempts, the homeowners came back to the county commission and said they were giving up. The pesky channel just didn't seem to like its new home and refused to stay open.

The county commission relented in its demand that the pass be re-opened, and "Midnight Beach" has been in existence ever since.

Of course, inlets and beaches move around and, despite the relocation of the pass in 1983, the Solomon home since resold a number of times ended up damaged by wind and waves to such an extent that county officials condemned it earlier this year and had most of it demolished.

Oh, there were studies and reports (and all manner of consultants) that siphoned money out of the county to provide information about the area over the years. Some reports said the pass would probably maybe sometime sort of open on its own. Other studies said it should be dredged. Some said it should remain as it is. You know how studies are.

The one I liked was by the "Blue Ribbon Panel On Midnight Pass," formed with a whole slew of community leaders and environmentalists, who in 1984 said that the pass should be dredged one time in a major way and that it should remain in an open state as a result.

Now, fast-forward to today. Coastal geologist Karyn Erickson presented a report to the Sarasota County Commission earlier this week that states that a restoration project is "feasible."

Erickson, according to my buddy Jack Gurney, writing in the Pelican Press, "entered the picture early this year when her successful role in the relocation of an unstable coastal inlet in New Hanover County, N.C., became known to county officials who were looking for someone to guide them through the minefield of bureaucratic permitting obstacles."

Erickson's $25,000 study said permits could be issued to re-open the pass if the county could assure the state and feds that a restored pass won't hurt nearby beaches. She also said that a management plan should be drafted that contains maintenance and monitoring costs, the plan would keep the inlet stable right! and that Little Sarasota Bay water quality wouldn't suffer as a result of the opening.

The pass opening proposal is a huge one, with something like 400,000 cubic yards of sand being moved around. That's about the amount of sand that came ashore on Anna Maria Island in the last beach renourishment project.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out again.

Another permit story: No more offshore dumping The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rejected an extension in the permit that allowed offshore dumping of the treated wastewater from the former Piney Point phosphate plant in northern Manatee County.

The plant has had a holding pond of toxic water at dangerously high level for a year. Since the plant owners declared bankruptcy, the state was forced to step in and try to get rid of the mess. Offshore dispersal was deemed the best of a bunch of bad options, and federal officials reluctantly allowed the discharge offshore via barge for several months of this year.

Now, no more, and the treated water will be slowly sent out to sea through Bishop Harbor.

Dangerous spider, or not?
Someone left us a little early holiday gift at the office a while back a note and a jar containing a dead spider. "Bad spider, poison spider," the note read, adding that "this is a tropical brown widow. I found six spiders and 16 egg sacks outside on my house. I think people should be able to identify this poisonous spider."

The note's author said "I do not want to say where these were exactly as people may feel unsettled. I just hope people watch out for them. They are bad!"

OK, so here's the story of the spiders from Dr. Fred Santana, Sarasota County IPM coordinator, according to a Web search.

"When the subject of dangerous spiders comes up, the average person usually thinks about the black widow spider. In Florida, however, the most commonly encountered species of the group that people are finding around their homes and work place is the brown widow spider, Latrodectus geometricus.

"In the mid to late 1990s there seems to have been an outbreak of brown widow spiders. Sightings have been reported from the barrier islands to I-75. At one time the brown widow, which was introduced into Florida, was most abundant in coastal cities of southeastern Florida. It now seems to have spread throughout the state and reports of sightings have been received from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

"Why are they so common? Perhaps, the milder winters of the last few years have contributed to their expanding range and increased presence. It could be there are more insects for them to feed on as a result of the milder winters.

"Because they vary from light tan to dark brown or almost black, with variable markings of black, white, yellow, orange, or brown on the back of their abdomens, brown widows are not as easy to recognize. The underside of the abdomen, if you can see it, contains the characteristic hourglass marking. Unlike the black widow, the hourglass is orange to yellow orange in color.

"There is another way to detect its presence its egg sac is very different from those of the other widow spiders. Instead of the smooth white to tan surface, the outside of the egg sac is covered with pointed projections giving it the appearance of a globe with many pointed protuberances on its surface. It has also been described as tufted or fluffy looking.

"Although the bite of a widow spider is much feared, the widow spiders are generally nonaggressive and will retreat when disturbed. Bites usually occur when a spider becomes accidentally pressed against the skin of a person when putting on clothes or sticking their hands in recessed areas or dark corners.

"According to Dr. G.B. Edwards, an arachnologist with the Florida State Collection of Arthropods in Gainesville, the brown widow venom is twice as potent as black widow venom. However, they do not inject as much venom as a black widow, are very timid, and do not defend their web. The brown widow is also slightly smaller than the black widow.

"The brown widow builds its web in secluded, protected sites around our homes, often very near our presence. It has a fondness for buildings but will construct its web in all kinds of man-made structures, and even vegetation. Some typical sites include inside old tires, empty containers such as buckets and nursery pots, mail boxes, entry-way corners, under eaves, stacked equipment, cluttered storage closets and garages, behind hurricane shutters, recessed hand grips of plastic garbage cans, undercarriages of motor homes, underneath outside chairs, branches of shrubs.

"Sanitation is the most important strategy in reducing widow spiders infestations around the home. Routine cleaning is the best way to eliminate spiders and discourage their return. Gloves should be worn if you suspect widow spiders to be present. Reducing clutter makes an area less attractive to spiders. Inside a home or garage, a thorough cleaning with a vacuum cleaner is an effective way to removes spiders, their egg sacs, and webbing. When vacuuming, the vacuum bag should be removed when you are finished and placed in a sealed plastic bag for disposal.

"If a spider problem still exists after sanitation work, insecticides may have to be used. Direct contact with a non-residual aerosol spray will remove live spiders when a vacuum is not available. Spot treatment applications of a residual insecticide to locations where spiders build their web sites can be helpful to prevent new spiders from becoming established."

There you go.

Sandscript factoid
Perhaps the folks in Geuda Springs, Kan., would just shoot spiders.

It seems that the city commission there has passed an ordinance requiring residents to have a gun and ammunition in their home or face a $10 fine. Exempt from the new law are those who have physical or mental disabilities, paupers, or people who conscientiously oppose firearms, according to an Associated Press report.

The town of 210 people has no police force, but relies on the Sumner County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement protection. The sheriff is not too keen on the measure, stating he's concerned about the safety of his deputies.

The town attorney also opposed the measure, and the attorney general of Kansas has had no comment.

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