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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 11, 2019 3 years ago

Siesta Key residents' help sought on preserve plan

Officials are looking to pursue a project that may help to reduce nitrogen pollution and support the local tourism industry just south of Turtle Beach.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Overlooking the Jim Neville Marine Preserve, Susan Melton has one of the most beautiful views on Siesta Key. Several stories up on Midnight Pass Road, she can watch boaters, paddleboarders and kayakers glide over the seagrass beds during high tide. And in the evening, she says she loves to watch fish jump by the mangroves.

Susan Melton's home overlooks Jim Neville Marine Preserve.

Nestled between Siesta Key and Casey Key, Neville Preserve offers an out-of-the-way site for those with a soft spot for fishing, birding and traversing unpaved trails.

According to Director Mark Alderson of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, officials believe the area can become “a regional Mecca for eco-tourism” that also serves to improve local water quality. 

And, not only do they want to start pursuing such improvements, but Alderson says they’ll also want Siesta Key residents to provide input on the design.

“The concept is to try to create some canoe and kayak trails,” Alderson said. “To take those spoil mounds out, take them down to about 1-to-2 feet below grade, create some beautiful kayak areas ... and then create a beautiful birding and waterline habitat.”

Additionally, he says they want to plant more mangroves that will both create new water tunnels through which visitors could kayak or paddle, but also reduce nitrogen pollution more efficiently.

But Melton, whose home allows her to observe the preserve daily, can’t help but feel a little worried about such changes. Increased human activity, she says, could adversely impact the preserve that acts as a buffer for natural wildlife.

“I just became aware of these plans so I don’t know all the details,” she said. “But there is a voice in the back of my mind that is saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It seems they may have this funding available, but perhaps it could be used better elsewhere ... I don’t think that is appropriate for a preserve of this kind.”

Specifically, if and when Alderson and other officials seek  community input on Neville Preserve, Melton says she would encourage them to use the money to instead maintain the preserve or raise public awareness about the already-existing habitat.

“The concept is to try to create some canoe and kayak trails,” Alderson said. “To take those spoil mounds out ... and then create a beautiful birding and waterline habitat.”

-Director Mark Alderson of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

But Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, wants residents to remember that the preserve is actually considered one of the county’s marine parks — meaning its purpose isn’t only to protect wildlife, but also to allow humans the opportunity to experience that wildlife firsthand.

But more important, she says, there is no concrete plan, yet.

“One of the things that I heard from Alderson is that it’s going to be a while before they even have a project description … I had hoped that he had one by now, but I guess it’s a little ways off,” Luckner said. “ But if, in fact, we can get some input on the goals, that would be for the area to have the spoil mounds [on the two preserve islands] removed, because those islands were impacted by what got dumped there, like vegetation and trash.”

According to Alderson, the work might still be several years off, depending on financing options.

As such, this would provide Siesta Key residents plenty of time to see the area for themselves and develop a more educated opinion on the matter.

“We’re coming in with a blank sheet of paper. There’s no preconditioned plan out here,” he said to attendees of an April 4 Siesta Key Association meeting. “It’s really up to you all as to what might happen.”

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