Sandy problem in Shell Key stranding boats

A thriving nature preserve has turned into a kill zone in Tierra Verde. Sand has washed into Shell Key, closing a once popular channel, and choking off a handful of waterfront homes and businesses.

Tuesday night, Tampa Bay Area environmental leaders will partner with home and business owners in South Pinellas County to come up with a solution, but it may not be easy. Shell Key is an island, right between Pass-A-Grille and Fort DeSoto and thanks to tides, it's constantly shifting.

The big question: Who should pay to get rid of all the extra sand?

Technically, the state owns the island. Yet, some say the county is to blame for all the sand blocking the channel around Shell Key, saying recent beach renourishment projects at Upham and Pass-A-Grille Beaches may have caused sand to shift towards Shell Key.

A few years ago, business and home owners chipped in to dredge the area, 6 months later the pass around Shell Key filled in with sand again and it's only become worse.

At nearby Billy's Stone Crab Restaurant, owner Ed Medley's boat is stuck in sand. For years, he's taken his customers on free boat rides around Shell Key. Now, his boat's propeller is covered in algae.

"We get hundreds of calls of people wanting to get on the boat and they just keep calling to see if we are able to go out. It's just awful," Medley explained.

Medley says the restaurant has lost dozens of customers who used to come by boat to his waterfront bar and restaurant.

Shell Key used to border a channel that was deep and hundreds of yards across, and now, it's a sandbar. The water around Shell Key is stagnant and the fish and Sea grass are dying, according to Tampa Bay Watch.

Pinellas County is investigating to find out what is causing the problem.

One idea to fix it is to pump out all the sand around Shell Key and use it to renourish St Pete Beaches.

The bigger concern: This could happen in other places-- as islands trap sand from nearby renourishment projects.

Tuesday night's meeting is at 6:30 PM at the Tampa Bay Watch Bay View Community Room at 3000 Pinellas Bayway South in Tierra Verde.

The groups taking part in the meeting are: Tampa Bay watch, Homeowners Steering Committee, St Pete Audubon Society, Friends of Tampa Bay Refuge, Sea Turtle Trackers, Pinellas County Activities and USF Inlet Management Studies professors and students.


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