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Project dredges up a muddy mess

Part of the beach on Honeymoon Island is covered with improperly dumped material.

By DEBORAH O'NEIL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000


DUNEDIN -- State environmental officials have shut down a dredging operation in Dunedin that they say improperly dumped about 30 truckloads of oozing gray mud on the beach at Honeymoon Island.

Also, the company that ordered the dredging, Pirate's Cove Marina, must clean up the mess, said Merritt Mitchell, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Tampa. The material had not yet been tested Friday, but officials said it appeared to be filled with silt and clearly did not belong on the beach.

"What we've got out here is bad, or it looks bad," Honeymoon Island park manager Perry Smith said. "They've got to get it out of here."

Pirate's Cove Marina employee Peggy Smith said the marina had no comment, and the owner, Robert Smith, her brother-in-law, was not available.

The state gave Robert Smith permission to dredge up to 11,000 cubic yards along the channel where Pirate's Cove Marina sits at the mouth of the Curlew River, Mitchell said. No permit was required.

The dredged material was supposed to be moved to an upland holding area on the island where it would dry and be evaluated by park and environmental officials to see if it was beach-quality sand, Mitchell said.

But the material was dumped right on the shore of Honeymoon Island, she said.

"They put it in the wrong place," she said. "It was not going to be used on the beach."

Friday, the material formed a 100-foot-long by 10- to 20-foot-wide blob on the north end of the beach between bathhouses three and four. The mound was 6 inches thick in some spots and up to 3 feet thick in others. Some of the material had washed into the water, leaving a dark cloud about 30 feet from shore, Perry Smith said.

He said he didn't think the material would cause environmental damage because there are no sea grasses in that area offshore.

Dunedin resident Harold West was fishing at Honeymoon Island this week when he noticed what he described as "black sludge" sitting on the beach.

"It's horrible," said West, who is a wetlands management consultant. "What it does to the water quality is not a short-term effect. It clouds the water and causes water quality issues. . . . It's criminal."

Smith, the park manager, said the material was trucked in over several days starting last week until Wednesday, when park officials said they would no longer accept it. Smith, who was out of town last week, said it was his understanding the company was supposed to be delivering beach-quality sand. The first few loads, he said, were acceptable.

"The material they initially brought out had dried and looked good," the park manager said. "The material they started bringing in after gradually got worse. We recognized the situation was not going to improve. That's why we shut them down."

Friday, park officials erected a screen around the edge of the mound to prevent more of it from washing into the ocean. Mitchell said the state was still determining whether it will penalize anyone, but she expects that the material will be removed Monday.

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