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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

New episode of Sand Wars coming to an Island near us?

It will be interesting to see if historical happenings to the south have any bearing on future events related to the Anna Maria Island shoreline.

In Sarasota County, it was called "Sand Wars," and the saga cost at least one political career, plus untold animosity that to this day is still being hissed about.

More than 15 years ago, Sarasota County officials quietly agreed that renourishment was needed for the beaches of Lido Key. The main access road was being threatened by high tides and waves, condominiums and homes had water lapping at their doors in storms, and the once-wide beach was a mere sliver of itself.

Coastal engineers thought they had a perfect source for new sand for Lido, too: A huge ebb-tidal shoal just south of Lido in the pass separating it from Siesta Key. The Lido renourishment needed something like 450,000 cubic yards of sand and, with something like 15-million cubic yards encompassing the sandbar in Big Pass, it seemed like a no-brainer to feather some sand off a source so close to where it needed to be placed.

After all, the sandbar was created for the most part from sand that came off Lido's beaches in the first place, officials agreed.

So the Sarasota County Commission agreed to the sand transfer, and went off to get the permits and other approvals from state and federal agencies.

And the residents on Siesta Key went nuts.

Siesta beaches, recognized internationally as having some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, also are unique in Southwest Florida in that there is little erosion there. Siesta residents claimed that the big sandbar off the north tip of the island protected them from erosion, and any taking of sand would harm their beaches and risk damaging their worldwide reputation of having a great beach.

Coastal officials said the sand taking would be minuscule and that no damage would come to Siesta. It isn't like a previous attempt to ship sand from Big Pass to Venice - this time it's all in the same system. Really, they said, it won't hurt anything!

But it did hurt at least one county commissioner, who lost a re-election bid in part because of his "yes" vote on the sand transfer.

After a lot of yelling, the Big Pass sandbar sand was unofficially declared off limits and sand was taken from offshore to renourish Lido's beach at a greater cost and with a lesser quality sand than what anyone would have liked.

Now, fast forward to today.

A Manatee County official last week said he was hoping that beach renourishment projects on Anna Maria Island in the near future would include the entire length of the Island. The previous two renourishments have begun north of Coquina Beach and stopped short of the north end of the Island.

With an entire Islandwide renourishment project, the previous source of offshore sand near Anna Maria City may not be as cost-efficient as in the past. Perhaps another source, this one the ebb-tidal shoal at Longboat Pass between Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key, would be better, it was hypothesized.

Sound familiar?

Now, remember that every inlet in the state is different.

Longboat Pass has been dredged for boat navigation repeatedly in the past 50 years, while Big Pass has never seen a dredger's scoop. Longboat is for the most part a straight east-west channel; Big Pass meanders with every tide and swoops from southwest-to-northeast to at times almost straight south-north. Currently, Big Pass is so shoaled that the U.S. Coast Guard has removed its channel markers from the inlet to avoid any lawsuits.

There is also a different beach dynamic on Longboat Key than there is, or was, on Siesta Key. North Longboat doesn't seem to get much protection from any big offshore sandbar, and the beach there is seriously eroded. More and more Australian pine trees have toppled at the north tip of the key this winter, and a breach between the tip of the island and a lagoon could take place at any time, forming another tiny island in the mouth of Longboat Pass.

Will any sand taken from the shoals there impact the beaches of Longboat Key?

We'll just have to wait and watch to see if another installment of Sand Wars takes place in our front yard.

Environmentalists win one

There's always been a segment of the development community out there that figures it's better to ask forgiveness than permission, the unscrupulous few who bulldoze or dredge and then say, "Oops! I'm bad! I'll pay the fine! Please forgive me!"

Well, a pair of South Sarasota County men got a lot more than a hand slap when they were convicted of cutting down a pine tree that had an eagle's nest on it, a federal violation.

Seems that an Indiana man bought a lot in Venice for $59,000, quite a steal for property in that neighborhood, at least until the eagle's nest was noticed. Bald and Golden Eagles are protected through federal and state laws, and cutting down a tree with a nest is a huge no-no.

But a few weeks after the lot transaction took place, the owner and another guy marched onto the property and cranked up a chain saw. A neighbor saw them, ran over and almost had a seizure yelling for them to stop. They ignored him and, when law enforcement arrived, the tree and nest were on the ground.

Oh, and by the time the eco-cops arrived, the chainsawing pair had also cut down a few other trees to cover the nest. What a pair of jerks.

The landowner sold the now eagle-nest-free property two years later for $150,000.

The U.S. District Court in Tampa heard the case a few weeks ago and fined the bozos $100,000, pretty much the entire profit he made in his property transaction. What was a pleasant surprise was that the two both got $10,000 fines, but the property owner got socked for an additional levy of $40,000 to be paid as a donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Florida Bald Eagle Conservation Fund and another $40,000 donation to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.

The good guys won one - for a change. Sorry about the eagles

Navy turns loose fighting cats for war on terrorism

Fast, fierce cats could be the wave of the future for the U.S. Naval fleet of warships.

Not felines, of course, but catamarans are hitting the water, and they are a far cry from the zippy boats than run passengers around the world's waters.

The "Sea Fighter" was christened in Seattle, Wash., last week, according to the Seattle Times. It is relatively small for naval ships, but huge for the rest of us at 262 feet. And it's fast compared to almost anything on the water considering its size: The captain estimates its 66,000-horsepower engines will push the ship to close to 70 mph.

The new catamaran is designed to cleave through 7-foot seas at 40 knots at least. Cost was $46 million to build.

The new design of an aluminum catamaran means it can go faster, farther, and in shallower water - 11-foot depths - than almost anything out there. It's got a wide-enough deck to accommodate two helicopters, plus room for lots of smaller boats.

Among the "Sea Fighter's" tasks will be mine detection and removal, plus insertion of elite troops into bad spots of the world. It's also got a lot of room to carry stuff, either troops or gear, to wherever it's needed.

No word on the Navy water-ski program that could be utilized in addition to the new cats.

Sandscript factoid

2004 was the fourth-warmest year on record since weather data began to be compiled more than 100 years ago, according to NASA scientists. Particular hot spots were Alaska, Antarctica and the Caspian Sea, while the United States was cooler than usual. Cause of the warm weather was placed on the increase in greenhouse gases caused by fossil-fuel burning.

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