MADIERA BEACH, Fla. — Pinellas County's largest tourist destination, you'll find boat tours, shops, and sand. Captain Dylan Hubbard is Majority Owner and Vice President of Hubbard's Marine. Only one of those is an issue for him.
"Everybody sees the sand, and then what do they do? They come back, and they think it's a beach, and people get out here and treat it like a beach."
Hubbard said it's anything but a beach. One step too far, and you could end up 30 feet below water. That's in addition to strong rip currents.
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"Even adults we've seen get swept off this beach, and we countless times have deployed a boat and gone and assisted people. We had those young gentlemen get swept offshore here and one passed away."
Captain Hubbard said his family has fought to dredge John's Pass since 1997.
They finally saw a victory Wednesday night.
At the Madeira Beach City Council meeting, Representative Linda Chaney presented council members with a $1,556,000 check from the state.
City Manager Robin Gomez said that money would dredge John's Pass.
"I know some of the businesses have been paying to dredge parts of the channel, the waterway. Now this funding will dredge a much larger area and hopefully alleviate, again, the accumulation of sand that just makes it difficult for boating and certainly the businesses that depend on getting larger commercial boats, dinner cruises, etc.," said Gomez.
He said dredging could begin as early as November and wrap within a month or two.
Hubbard said the relief couldn't come soon enough.
"It's really, really amazing to see this get kind of a really big step forward to battle this issue that's creating such a big safety concern, drainage issues, access issues, and ecological impacts. I mean, just a whole myriad of different things have been negatively impacted by this sand build-up in John's Pass," he said.
Aside from the safety risk of unaware swimmers, Hubbard said the sand has added to drainage concerns.
"The city drainage is right here on the sand, which is responsible for draining all of John's Pass' main drag. So if we get a light rain, and that drain is clogged up from sand, which often it is, all of John's Pass floods. Some of those businesses will flood, so the City actually has staff come down here every day, sometimes two or three times a day to clear out that drain," Hubbard said.
Then there's the ecological impact. The Pass is a historic manatee migration route. When the Manatees swim and return in the spring, they run into the sand blockade.
"We've seen it happen too many times where manatees and other marine mammals like dolphins and even sea turtles are pushed away from the safety of the seawall to that main navigable channel because of the sand issue," he said.
While the dredging is welcome news, it's not a long-term fix. A recent USF study surrounding John's Pass and its sand says dredging will likely only last 10-15 years. But other state dollars have gone towards more other factors in the issue.
"We actually funded a study and that scientist, Dr. Ping Wang from USF, was quoted during that study. He said a longer Jetty would solve the problem and prevent sand from ever accumulating again, and it would strengthen and deepen John's passage channel, which we're having a lot of sand issues outside in the channel too," he explained.
Madeira Beach has received money to address that. Last year Representative Chaney secured $1,750,000 for Beach Groin Rehabilitation.
Everyone involved said they'll continue to work until the problem is fixed.