SAVE BELLEAIR CAUSEWAY
This website has been created to provide information on the on-going effort to preserve windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and fishing access to Belleair Causeway. Under the current proposal, a person must walk 1250 feet (the length of four football fields) carrying equipment, coolers, chairs, board, mast and sails to access the center of the south beach.
Historically Belleair Causeway has been a haven for windsurfing, fishing, kayaking and sunbathing activities. It is unique because of minimal boat traffic and barrier islands that are easily accessible by small, human or wind-powered craft that can be hand launched from the beach. I discovered the site in 1979, fell in love with it and started windsurfing there regularly. In 1984 I moved to Indian Rocks Beach, just two miles from Belleair Causeway. Since then, I have built my business, Watersports West, around the ability of my customers to have easy water access to use the types of watersport equipment we sell. Other than Belleair Causeway, the closest free intercoastal public launch areas are Dunedin Causeway thirteen miles to the north or Tierra Verde seventeen miles to the south
The website: http://www.savebelleaircauseway.com/
[Jim Damaske | Times]
Changing the plan now would require several official approvals, a permit and the money for a redesign. The new causeway should be finished in the spring of 2010.
[Theresa Blackwell | Times]
Watersports West owner Steve LeVine isn't happy with the plan. "In its natural state, it's fine for me," he said. "Just so I can park and get in the water."
Big changes are coming to the small island on the western side of the Belleair Beach Causeway, a sand spit just east of Belleair Beach that for a half century has been a haven for kayakers, anglers and, more recently, windsurfers.
Water sports enthusiasts have been able to pull off on both sides of the island since the causeway was built in 1950. They could park in the sand and fish right there or launch kayaks and canoes.
Since 1968, when windsurfing became popular, the island drew that crowd, too. The waters there are a safe distance from the powerboat traffic in the main channel. Windsurfers also enjoyed another plus: They could take off from either side, depending on the wind's direction.
But now concern is mounting that the new, $72.2-million Belleair Beach Causeway being built by the county will dramatically change the island, costing windsurfers their slice of paradise.
They are organizing to fight.
The causeway, one of the major beach routes in mid Pinellas, was closed to recreation earlier this year when construction crews moved in. The new causeway should be finished in the spring of 2010.
On the eastern shore - the Largo side of the bay and Intracoastal Waterway - crews will build an improved park with larger parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers.
Boat ramps, a restroom/bait/concession building and a better-protected dog beach with parking also will be built.
But on the island on the bay's western side, vehicles will have access only to the north side - not the south side.
Parking area will be limited, allowing spaces for possibly 10 to 20 vehicles. And the natural beach on the north side will mostly be gone.
Windsurfer Steve LeVine, 49, hoped the island might get a restroom. But now LeVine, owner of Watersports West in Largo, would settle simply for the island to stay as it has been in recent years. His business depends on windsurfers' ability to use that island.
"In its natural state, it's fine for me," he said. "Just so I can park and get in the water."
The county's plans call for a span and roadway built higher than the current causeway.
It will better stand up to storms and be a safer hurricane evacuation route, officials say.
But an elevated roadway requires on and off ramps that will disturb the northern part of the island, limiting parking. The southern side will become a planting site for required wetland mitigation.
In public meeting after public meeting, Pinellas County officials say, they told windsurfers and others they would provide access to the island and parking there. And the plan delivers.
"Now, at the eleventh hour, you have these citizens, basically two citizens, saying, 'Look what they are doing to us,'" said Tony Horrnik, the county's senior engineer for the project.
The number of windsurfers organizing to protest the plans is actually larger than that and includes windsurfing instructor, Richard Birchmire, 71, of Largo.
He has taught 500 to 600 students how to windsurf from the island.
He attended public meetings on the project and said the county did not present detailed plans for the island, as they did for the park on the eastern shore.
So the windsurfers, lacking an understanding of the planned impact, did not protest when the county was taking public comment.
Changing the plans is not impossible, Horrnik said, because construction hasn't started on the segment of the roadway near the island. But changes would require several approvals, a permit and money for redesign.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@... or 727 445-4170.
Source: http://www.sptimes.com/2007/12/26/North ... dsur.shtml
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