APRIL FOOLS — President Barack Obama warned us that sequestration could result in layoffs and slowed economic growth.
But he didn’t say the cuts would get downright ugly — for Longboat Key’s Gulf of Mexico Drive, that is.
The $500,000 federal beautification grant from the $787 billion nationwide stimulus package the town received four years ago to spruce up Longboat Key’s main road is gone.
Longboat Key business owners reported they got an instant jolt from the new sea-salt resistant trees, sidewalks and “Welcome to Longboat Key” signs the grant provided.
But, then the road began to show signs of decay. The island’s plants began to brown, and paint chipped off the welcome signs.
At first, officials blamed the browning plants on whitefly infestation.
But, at a press conference last week, Obama’s landscaping czar confirmed what many Longboaters have suspected:
There has never been a documented case of whitefly on the Key.
“Sea turtles are actually a natural predator of whiteflies. There’s no way they could survive Longboat life,” he said.
Citing lack of federal funds, the landscaping czar said the federal government hasn’t been watering or trimming the plants along Gulf of Mexico Drive for the past six months.
And it’s about to get uglier.
Due to a lack of federal funds to pay for two full-time staffers to maintain each “Welcome to Longboat Key” sign, the feds will soon remove both signs.
The funding to re-stripe the line between the bicycle lane and the main road has also disappeared, meaning Gulf of Mexico Drive could become a free-for-all for motorists, bicyclists, joggers, tricyclists and rollerbladers.
Without federal funds, the town will no longer be able to fund enforcement of its longstanding policy of shielding Gulf of Mexico Drive with a vegetation buffer. That prospect worries Longboaters, who fear they’ll be able to see local businesses and condominiums from the road.
Meanwhile, local business owners are concerned about the potentially devastating impact the cuts could have on the local economy.
One business owner said her customers could get lost without the “Welcome to Longboat Key” signs.
“We’re starting to look like Bradenton out here,” she said.
Reached for comment by the Longboat Observer, an Obama spokesman urged Longboat Key residents to focus on other important issues: the national deficit, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, making health care affordable and a planning consultant’s upcoming review of town codes.
Call to service
Cuts aren’t limited to Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The town also lost the federal funds that helped to pay for its turtle permit. That means that each Gulfside condominium will be required to appoint residents to patrol its stretch of the beach for turtle nests each morning before sunrise from May through October.
The town has never had the funds to rake its beach for seaweed. But, to prevent further deterioration, each Key resident will be assigned a 10-foot stretch of Gulf sand and given a town-issued rake to ensure the beach doesn’t lose its beauty.