William Conrad Saba remembers hearing stories from his grandfather, Longboat Key pioneer Frank Conrad, about when Longbeach Village used to be an island.
“For the Village to become populated, they had to create a roadway entrance back in the 1880s,” Saba explains. “The road eliminated the island that’s now made up of the Village.”
Walking on Broadway Street near the entrance to the Longbeach Village neighborhood Friday, July 1, Saba pulls out a copy of an undated historic plat map that’s registered with the Manatee County Clerk’s Office. The map depicts the two canals that now sit on either side of Broadway — the main entrance to the Village.
Saba believes the plat map is the only document that shows that when Broadway was built, the canal that used to flow all the way to Sarasota Bay south behind where Whitney Beach Plaza sits today was made into two separate bodies of water. Fresh water still flows into the canal on the north side of Broadway, because it flows into Longboat Pass, but the water on the south side of Broadway has become stagnant, because the road cut the flow of water from the bay.
Saba owns a half-dozen lots to the south of Broadway that sit mostly in stagnant water.
“I look at this strictly from an environmental standpoint,” Saba said. “The idea that water doesn’t flow in these canals causes this waterway to be stagnant and polluted. That water is not flowing there now is almost criminal.”
For years, Saba and some Village residents have hoped to get the water flowing again between the two canals, even if the two bodies of water can’t physically be connected again.
Outgoing Village President Michael Drake has attended the last three Longboat Key Town Commission Goals and Objectives workshops to ask the commission to consider installing gas lamps and a bridge over Broadway where the two canals used to connect.
Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force Chairman and former Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll takes the vision a step further.
Spoll said the concept has recently been discussed at task force meetings, which are being held to find ways to revitalize the Key and rejuvenate the north end of the island.
“When discussing ways to revitalize Whitney Beach Plaza, it’s been discussed that having some boating access there behind the plaza would be something to look into,” Spoll said.
Spoll, whose group is trying to find ways to connect restaurants such as Moore’s Stonecrab Restaurant & Marina and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub to Gulf of Mexico Drive, thinks an improved waterway that boaters could access via small canoes and kayaks is something to explore.
Spoll hopes to work with town officials to investigate the history of the road.
Brian Kenney, the owner of Whitney Beach Plaza, who is devising a plan for the aging plaza that includes commercial, residential and tourism components, agrees.
“The more traffic I can get to that site, even via boaters coming from nearby restaurants, is a good thing,” said Kenney, who believes a waterway there would help with his goal of bringing a hotel to that area. “It seems like a no-brainer to me,” Kenney said.
There are many hurdles, though.
When asked about the history of the waterway, Public Works Director Juan Florensa said the decision to cut off the waterway was way before his time.
Florensa, who has been asked about this concept many times in the past, questions the concept’s validity.
Florensa maintains that connecting the two waterways would destroy mangroves on both ends of the canals.
“Why would we open a waterway that removes existing mangroves for what I believe is no environmental improvement to the area?” Florensa said. “It’s been like that for decades and decades, and there is no benefit to having water flow there.”
Florensa said he was asked to investigate the feasibility of connecting the waterways in the past and said it would cost the town more than $1 million to dredge and reconnect the waterways.
Florensa said the only pipes that exist under Broadway move the flow of rainwater from one side of Broadway to the other during a storm.
Although hurdles exist, Saba maintains his suggestion is just that — a suggestion.
“It’s common sense that the canals used to meet,” Saba said. “At one time the Village used to be an island. Who knows? Maybe it can be one again with a nice bridge entrance to the historic community.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].