Gulfport resident Dave Howard spoke to the Gulfport City Council on Tuesday requesting support for the “Save Egmont Key” project for the restoration of Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge. More than 20 organizations are partnering to convince U.S. Congress to fund a 50-year plan to re-nourish the sands of Egmont Key and he is asking Gulfport to join the group.
“We have some serious erosion going on there,” said Howard, representing Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges. “There have been attempts over the years – the Egmont Key Alliance has been instrumental in getting some sand on Egmont periodically – but not enough to really create a situation where we can prevent massive erosion.”
No funds or resources are being requested from Gulfport or partner organizations, only verbal support. They include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Army Corps of Engineers, Boca Ciega Yacht Club, Clearwater Audubon, Suncoast Sierra Club, Tampa Bay Pilots, Tampa Port Authority and many more.
The purpose of the restoration is to retain the present size (295 acres) of the island in order to protect its natural habitat and historical remains. The first phase of the project calls for sheet pilings to be installed in front of some of the Fort Dade historical artillery batteries on the island along with 1.3 million cubic yards of sand. Every seven years thereafter it would require 700,000 cubic yards of sand to replace what gets washed away.
The projected cost over 50 years is $37.4 million with $13.4 million to cover the first phase. The remainder of the budget would be spread out over the periodic restorations in order to maintain the island’s footprint.
In 2000 Congress allocated funds for the Army Corps to produce a feasibility study to either restore Egmont Key to its original size (about twice the current size) or keep it from eroding further. It was determined that a complete restoration was not feasible but that a 50-year plan to shore up the island to prevent future erosion was.
“We are not re-nourishing this beach for commercial use. This is basically the greatest bird nesting area we have on the west coast of Florida. We have over 31,000 pairs of birds nesting on the south end of Egmont,” Mr. Howard stated to the Gulfport council, naming various species and adding that the island is accessible by boat only, with approximately 130,000 human visitors each year.
In a phone call Wednesday, Mr. Howard described it as an effort to convince Congress that it is a critical habitat that needs to be maintained and not allowed to erode like Passage Key did. Hurricane Gustav in 2008, in particular, took a lot of sand away from the northwest side of Egmont creating cliffs more than six feet high in sections, preventing sea turtles from safely making their nests.
Egmont Key is home to 30 to 50 loggerhead sea turtle nests each year and Friends of the Tampa Bay Refuges has hired interns to go around the island every morning looking for turtle crawls. If found, they dig up nests and physically move them, egg by egg, to higher ground so they don’t get washed over by the tide.
Tampa Bay channel is dredged every ten years and some of the material is put on Egmont Key to help maintain it but there is no government directive to continue that. Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges would also like to see more of the dredged material used for that purpose to possibly cut costs for the restoration.
Egmont Key is technically in Hillsborough County, owned by FWS and managed as part of a cooperative effort between FWS and the Florida Park Service. It is both a state park and a national wildlife refuge.
Mr. Howard is assistant treasurer of Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges, which is one of 230 groups supporting more than 500 such refuges nationwide. It also acts as a watchdog for Passage Key and the Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge.
“A government agency cannot ask for funds for a project like this but individuals or nonprofit groups like ourselves can,” Mr. Howard explained, adding that the more organizations that support the effort the better the chances are of it being approved.
The Gulfport City Council agreed to draft a letter of support for the project and council members will review it for a future meeting before voting whether or not to join the partnership in support.
Originally published on Patch.com