Wave Maker’s News: Florida’s Nature Coast in Jeopardy

This article is excerpted from Wave Maker’s News, our quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico, check out the full newsletter here.Fillman’s Bayou, with a kingfisher perched on the branch in the foreground.Pasco County’s stretch of the Nature Coast is a truly special place. Home to an amazing coastal ecosystem of seagrass, mangroves, wetlands and emergent marshland, it functions as a nursery for many important species in the Gulf of Mexico, including redfish, dolphins and endangered manatees. Sadly, this vital environment is threatened by a massive development proposal dubbed SunWest Harbourtowne.This development involves dredging a 4.86 mile long, 85 foot wide channel through the heart of Fillman’s Bayou, just south of Aripeka, Florida. The size of the channel prompted Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Director Adam Putnam to ask why this channel needed to be large enough to accommodate an “oil tanker” !The answer is unclear, but it is clear that this mega-channel will devastate seagrass beds that provide critical shelter, nursery, breeding, and foraging areas for many of Florida’s signature game fish species. These seagrasses also provide habitat for other marine life like pinfish and blue crabs, as well as wading and shore birds such as little blue herons and plovers.While Florida officials have expressed support for SunWest Harbourtowne, a diverse coalition of community members, recreational fishermen, and conservationists have continued to raise major concerns about this project. SunWest Harbourtowne would necessitate a 50-year private use arrangement for almost 2 million square feet of public submerged land with no fee required – a half century giveaway of vital, public resources. In return for this giveaway of public land, the developer has promised a county park. This is not a fair trade for the health and vitality of the Nature Coast, and the communities and wildlife that rely on it.The developers have submitted a permit application for the project to the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Corps is currently reviewing it. The National Marine Fisheries Service has weighed in – recommending that the Corps reject the permit application. In addition, GRN recently submitted a letter to the Corps urging them to deny the permit and requesting that they conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, a more thorough study of environmental impacts required under the law for major projects like this. You can take action now by clicking here and urging the Corps to reject this destructive boondoggle.Cathy Harrelson is GRN’s Florida Organizer.

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