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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001
Pity the staff members of the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management.
They have the job of protecting the environment along Pinellas County's fragile, much-abused bay and gulf shorelines. But in the view of some residents, they also have the job of protecting the public's right to see the water.
Those two tasks, which serve often diametrically opposed interests, were at issue recently when residents of a Safety Harbor subdivision asked for permission to cut mangroves blocking their view of Old Tampa Bay.
For nearly a year, residents of the Phillippe Pointe North neighborhood have been trying to persuade the county department to allow them to severely trim a large stand of mangroves that is growing between their homes and the bay. But the department, true to its mission to protect the environment, refused.
So last week, residents took their request to the Pinellas County Commission, apparently believing that the elected officials would inform the staff that its real mission is to preserve the views of waterfront homeowners. The commission didn't go that far, but told the two sides to talk some more.
A water view in Florida is a valuable and beautiful thing. The residents' interest in maintaining that view is, as far as it goes, understandable.
But it is not the job of the Department of Environmental Management to see that the Pinellas shoreline is sculpted to preserve the views of waterfront property owners.
The stand of mangroves in question is so large that it amounts to a mangrove forest. If these were oaks, would anyone advocate that they be cut to provide a better view of the sky?
Mangroves are protected by state law for good reasons. Their roots stabilize shorelines and provide a nursery for fish. Their branches provide resting and nesting spots for shorebirds. The trees filter water and help keep it clean.
All of those functions are important in Old Tampa Bay, which was damaged years ago by the construction of the Courtney Campbell Parkway and continues to suffer the consequences of polluted shoreline runoff from yards and roads. Many mangroves are now growing along Pinellas' bayside -- a fact that should be celebrated by those who hope for a healthier Tampa Bay.
But there is another factor here that residents of aptly named Phillippe Pointe North subdivision should appreciate.
They live on a point that juts into the bay, making it vulnerable to wind and wave action should a major storm such as a hurricane hit Tampa Bay. With their spreading root systems, mangroves don't just stabilize the shoreline, they also up break up wave action, making it less destructive to uplands where homes are built.
And the wide stand of healthy mangroves that residents want to cut would be particularly effective at not only making waves less destructive, but also absorbing and spreading out floodwaters. In fact, when county officials reviewed the plans for construction of Phillippe Pointe North, they required that the mangrove forest be set aside as a conservation area to protect it.
Whether the residents of Phillippe Pointe North go to the County Commission or the Department of Environmental Management, the answer to their request ought to be the same: This stand of mangroves is valuable and serves a purpose, and will be preserved.