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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED July 23, 2009
The town of Longboat Key patrols Beer Can Island, picks up excessive trash on its sand and even has a new emergency plan in place to rescue people in need from its shores.
But town officials say they don’t own it.
Even though a sign is posted in the middle of the island noting two town ordinances banning both dogs and alcohol on the beach, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said the island doesn’t belong to Longboat.
“It was donated to Manatee County years ago,” St. Denis said.
And, earlier this year, St. Denis told Manatee County commissioners the same thing.
It was a surprise to Manatee County officials, who told St. Denis they would have county staff prepare a report about the island’s history and what their intentions for the property were.
But the meeting and the report never happened.
Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s director of conservation lands management, told The Longboat Observer that he has witnessed the pass of ownership of the island between the county and the town since 1977.
“The bottom line is Beer Can Island is under the political jurisdiction and control of the town (of Longboat Key),” Hunsicker said. “The town controls that area in the same manner as the county’s activities are under regulatory authority of the city of Bradenton Beach for Coquina Beach.”
In response to Hunsicker’s claims, St. Denis said he doesn’t “follow Hunsicker’s logic.”
Both Hunsicker and St. Denis referenced a document written years ago, in which the island was donated to Manatee County. But neither the county nor the town could produce a copy of the document.
However, the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the county as the owner of Beer Can Island (the island’s listed name), with an ownership date of April 1, 1974.
The Longboat Key Town Commission passed a resolution in 1983 urging the county to consider changing the island’s name to Greer Island, after Homer and Mary Greer. In the 1970s, the Greers took an active part in fighting what they perceived as Frank Conrad’s desire to develop the island of accreted sand. But the island’s name was never changed officially.
Meanwhile, the town doesn’t plan to disregard Beer Can Island anytime soon.
Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle and Fire Rescue Chief Rich Dickerson were on the island just last week devising a safer way to transport people off the island in an emergency situation.
Because the loss of beach on the north end has made it difficult to access the island, a fire truck can be parked on Longboat Pass Bridge, with the truck ladder being used to get people on and off the island.
History of Beer Can Island
A regional model study for Longboat Pass and Sarasota Bay was performed last year.
The 114-page study depicts the history of the pass and how it has evolved since the 1800s.
The study states when the pass opened in 1880, north of a previous inlet location, the south end of Anna Maria Island began to erode, while the sand moved and began to form at the north end of Longboat Key.
This became known as Beer Can Island.
And, when the jetty was built in the 1950s, the north end of Longboat Key began to erode, and Beer Can Island began to break away from Longboat Key.
By 1970, however, sand bypassing was re-established, and Beer Can Island became re-attached to Longboat Key.
But, recently, Beer Can Island has become difficult to access by foot. Beachgoers who attempt it are technically using a closed North Shore Road beach-access point to access the island at low tide. And, even at low tide, beachgoers must wade through some water to access the land.
Beer Can Island challenges
Despite the ongoing argument of who owns Beer Can Island, there’s no denying that town officials have enforced town codes on the island.
Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle said officers routinely patrol the island via boat.
Hogle said it’s legal for boaters to drink alcohol in the water or on their boats, but not on the island.
The police department, Hogle said, hasn’t seen a lot of criminal activity on the island, which he attributes to a lack of pedestrian beachgoers because of limited access to the island due to both high tide and beach erosion.
Public Works Director Juan Florensa said his employees are only sent to the island if the police department notifies him of excessive trash or any type of habitable structure or fire pit that has been built on the island.
Just last month, Florensa said his crew dismantled “a pretty elaborate lean-to” that was being used as a shelter for some beachgoers.
And, The Longboat Observer notified Florensa of another lean-to, built with wood, palm fronds and a tarp. The lien also included a mattress.
Florensa said it’s more difficult for his crews to get to the island because of the loss of beach near North Shore Road.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
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