MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. — The City of Madeira Beach held a meeting on Friday to bring together county, state and federal officials, as well as business owners, to present their ideas for both a short-term and a long-term fix for a major sand blocking problem.
The meeting was closed to the public, but supporters met outside Madeira Beach City Hall for a "Save John's Pass Rally," showing up with signs to help express the urgency of fixing the problem.
But according to Dylan Hubbard with Hubbard's Marina, and City of Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks, no real solutions came out of the meeting, just more finger-pointing.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be at this point, all we can do is keep fighting to save John’s Pass and save our business and save our location, but I mean, this sand problem is only getting worse,” said Dylan Hubbard.
According to Hubbard and Mayor Hendricks, Pinellas County recommended conducting a six-month study to figure out where the sand is coming from. Both Hubbard and Mayor Hendricks say the problem seems self-explanatory, but the county insisted on a study.
FDOT was asked to pay for a portion of the study since the problem was exacerbated following the construction of the John's Pass Bridge, but it has not been decided who will pay for the other portion, and when the study will begin. Mayor Hendricks estimated sometime around March. That study will be conducted by USF.
A spokesperson for FDOT said "Although we don’t know what’s causing the issue, FDOT agreed to help fund a study with the county to see if we can find out what is causing the issue."
Once that study is complete, the county suggested a follow-up 3-year study, where they would consider the impact of extending the beach jetties. Mayor Hendricks suggested that would be a multi-million dollar project that the city cannot pay for alone.
Business owners and the city want officials to act fast because business owners in John’s Pass continue losing water access due to the sand-blocking issue that is creating a beach and eliminating boat slips.
The water is now shin deep nearly a third of the way into the John’s Pass channel, in an area that was originally covered by water more than 10 feet deep.
To help raise awareness of the issue, business owners and local residents previously held #SaveJohnsPass rally in October.
“Trying to just make people aware, and the county, city, and state aware, that we’ve got a lot of support behind this issue,” said Hubbard.
In the last few months, John's Pass has taken over as the number one water rescue location in Pinellas County, and the fire chief blames many of those rescues on the sand blocking problem.
The president of the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce showed up at the rally, expressing her concerns over the safety issues created by the sand encroachment.
“It’s a whirlpool out here by the bridge. These kids go out there, they get caught, they’re gone,“ said Missy Hahn, President of the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Hubbard's Marina has been championing the mission to get the attention of those who have the power to do something about the situation.
“We’ve had 1500 people, in just 48 hours, sign up on the new Save John’s Pass website,“ said Hubbard.
The mayor of Madeira Beach assures businesses that the city stands behind them, but it's going to take the help of other governmental entities to solve the problem.
But until that fix happens, Hubbard’s Marina is working day in and day out to keep the sand from overtaking more of their boat slips. They’re already down to two from the four that they did have, and they’re currently trying to hold back the sand with their large boats.
“We burned up two water pumps, we caused damage to our intake on our bait tanks, we lost a couple of water hoses on the dock, some electrical current on the dock,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard says they've spent around $10,000 in the last week just in equipment costs and payroll costs to dig out the sand. But if they don’t fight the sand, they’re a boating business operating on dry land and the beach will move farther down the boardwalk, becoming a problem for the next business.
“That’s why we’re leaning more and more towards perhaps leaving John’s Pass,” said Hubbard.
That’s a decision that carries a frightening trickle-down effect, even for the businesses that don’t use the water.
“They carry a big following, and if they go somewhere else, that’s going to deter people from coming here,” said Larry Butterfield, owner of Kilwins, a chocolate shop franchise in John’s Pass Village.
For a top tourist destination in Pinellas County, businesses and city officials are worried.
“We’re getting in dire straits in John’s Pass,” said City of Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks during the Oct. 14 city council meeting.
The small city of Madeira Beach doesn’t have the money to pay for the long term fix of extending the jetties and reinforcing the beach groins, so they’re asking Pinellas County and the Army Corps of Engineers for help. But the county says they have no jurisdiction, and the Army Corps of Engineers says any request for a study must come from the county.
“They’re talking about doing studies that are gonna take 8, 9, 10 months to complete. By 8, 9, 10 months, we’re out of here,” said Hubbard.
You can visit the "Save John's Pass" website by clicking here.