Steube Offers Support to Reopening Midnight Pass

Todays News

U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, met with Sarasota County officials and lent his support to efforts to re-open Midnight Pass. But some 40 years after the waterway was closed, environmental groups call a new push for the project remains as unwise as ever.

Steube held a virtual briefing with Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson and Government Relations Director Rob Lewis on the steps ahead for obtaining federal support. The congressman said there were clear environmental benefits to reopening the pass.

“Reopening Midnight Pass would bring a series of positive improvements to Little Sarasota Bay – from both a water quality standpoint and a healthier environment for wildlife, homeowners on the bay, and visitors,” Steube said.

“My office stands ready to assist our local leadership in jumpstarting a critical project that will make a real difference in Sarasota County. We are prepared to be a partner at the federal level as we navigate the many federal and state agencies involved in the unique nature of opening an inlet and restoring the bay to a marine system.”

County officials estimated a project would have an $84-million price tag. But there has long been public support for re-opening. The pass was originally closed in 1983 at the insistence of two prominent property owners, Syd Solomon and Pasco Carter, who feared land erosion. The paid promised to finance the reopening of the pass at a location that didn’t threaten homes, but the costs stopped that from taking place.

The recent support from Steube to reopen the pass comes after state and county elected officials in recent months spoke up in favor of the plan. But that activity comes almost 15 years after Sarasota County abandoned the project when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection denied a state permit to the county.

Glen Compton, chairman and director of Manasota-88, said the plan is futile, and no matter what government officials invest now, he doubts the state will ever sign off.

“Sarasota County has been denied twice,” he said, noting the state also stopped a project in 1991. “At this point, it’s a waste of time and taxpayer money to see whether or not it will be denied a third time. Midnight Pass is a very environmentally sensitive area, and the last thing we to do is make culverts or dredge and cause irreversible ecological harm.”

Most environmental groups generally affirm closing the pass was a bad move when it happened. But in four intervening decades, a brackish ecology now exist within the Bay that would be threatened by carving a channel to the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico.

Moreover, Compton said, there’s no guarantee a new Midnight Pass would stay open. The changing course of the pass is what prompted the concerns of property owners in the first place. No matter what gets invested into a reopening project, Compton said nothing will stop nature from closing the culverts.

“A lot of people would like to see it opened, but the tidal regime is just not there for it to exist,” he said. “Probably the biggest reason is the tidal flow north and south through the intercoastal.”

Local environmental advocate Jono Miller said it would be wise for county officials to research “what benefits they could secure for our bays if an equivalent amount of money was spent in other ways.”

But advocates for reopening the pass continue to make inroads with officials. The Midnight Pass Society II released its own environmental studies predicting benefits from the project. “Opening the Pass would revitalize the sea grasses, permitting new fish varieties and birds in the immediate vicinity, and restore the crystal blue of the Gulf waters,” reads a statement. “The new hydrology would improve water circulation, reduce pollution, and increase the viable breeding areas for shrimp, clam, and oysters, all of which are now gone due to the stagnation of the waterways.”


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