The northernmost point of Longboat Key has been eroded to the point that emergency vehicles cannot traverse a path cut for them .
A once-cleared path for emergency access to the north end of Longboat Key at Greer Island is now peppered with mangrove roots and overwashed with Gulf of Mexico water, forcing law enforcement to use boat patrols or wade to access the Manatee County-owned beach.
High tides caused by Subtropical Storm Alberto eroded a large portion of the western shore of Greer Island, exposing mangrove roots that were cut to make a path for all-terrain emergency vehicles. Police Chief Pete Cumming said this newly formed obstacle will make it harder for emergency services to access on Greer Island.
“If you’re having a heart attack or you're a victim of a crime, this is going to cause a delay in our response time,” Cumming said.
The reason for the delay is the interruption in access to the sand spit. Earlier this year, the Longboat Key Public Works Department cleared mangrove roots to create a six-foot wide path for all-terrain vehicles and foot access.
But the intense wave action brought by Subtropical Storm Alberto eroded the shoreline, exposing at least one foot of formerly sand-covered mangrove roots. Bob Bunting, who lives near Greer Island and walks the beach often, said the effect Alberto had on the north end was both impressive and unsurprising.
“It’s been eroding, and occasionally there would be some water intrusion,” Bunting said of the beach at Greer island. “But now, because the shoreline has been pushed back by Alberto, it’s constantly in water.”
A once dry patch of sand that gave access to a path carved by town officials was underwater Thursday, forcing beachgoers to take off their shoes, wade through the Gulf of Mexico and navigate mangrove roots and surf to get to the beach on Greer Island.
While portions of Lido Key have been declared as an erosion state of emergency after Alberto's passage, Longboat Key officials have yet to make such a declaration.
Greer Island serves as a barrier to protect the north end of Longboat Key from strong wave and tidal action that is caused by the current created by Longboat Pass. This force has caused Greer Island to shift for as long as records have been kept about its position.
“What people don't’ realize is this gradual degradation is gradually increasing the risk of a serious consequence here,” Bunting said.
If it were up to him, Bunting said he would have declared a erosion state of emergency two years ago, when mangroves on Greer Island were beginning to die and erosion started to affect the beach in front of his home in a way that worried him.
The town has begun the permitting process to put three groins north of the two existing structures, but it could be months, or even years, before those permits are approved and the town is able to put sand-capturing jetties to build up the shoreline.
But the island shouldn’t wait to protect the shoreline, Bunting said. Taking steps now to prevent wash over on Greer Island will ultimately cost the town less than if it were to do nothing, Bunting said.
“They need to replenish that beach now,” Bunting said. “You’ve got to keep replenishing the beach, and you may have to do it a couple times — the cost will be a lot less if they can do it sooner.”