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    Pinellas agrees to purchase 3 islands for preservation

    County officials say they intend to keep the islands undeveloped, which pleases residents who have fought development efforts in the past.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    The Pinellas County Commission voted to buy islands, center, in the Anclote River for preservation. The islands are just west of the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Over the last century, three small islands in the Anclote River have been a home to grazing goats, a source of cooking charcoal for sponge boat captains, a camping spot for local kids and a graveyard for old fishing boats.

    Soon they will become the property of Pinellas County taxpayers and the permanent home of the pelicans and other wading birds that make their nests there now. County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to buy the three islands from longtime West Pasco developer George M. "Bud" Brown for $300,000.

    County real estate manager Ellyn Kadel said officials intend to preserve the islands as undeveloped habitat and not place amenities such as restrooms, picnic shelters or docks on them.

    "We're not going to develop them into a parklike environment," she said. "We're going to leave them natural."

    Word of the county's decision came has a pleasant surprise to retiree W. Lee Ward, who said he has fought three attempts to develop the islands during the past two decades.

    "I think it's wonderful," said Ward, 84, whose home on Chesapeake Drive overlooks the channel between the larger two islands. In response to past development attempts, Ward said he hired Clearwater development attorney Tim Johnson and formed the Anclote River Preservation Society with his neighbors.

    "They're full of seabirds with nests of all kinds," Ward said of the islands. "There's every reason in the world not to develop them. We don't want this area to become a concrete jungle like on the east coast."

    Altogether the islands cover about 20.4 acres, but Anclote Key Realty agent John Tarapani said the purchase includes another 10 acres of bay bottom. The land was appraised at $310,000, but Brown agreed to donate $10,000 of the purchase price to the county as a charitable contribution. The closing of the sale is contingent on the completion of a satisfactory environmental audit.

    Brown did not return a call to his office in Pasco County on Tuesday afternoon, but Tarapani said Brown concluded that selling the islands to the county was preferable to the "ruffled feathers" that would have resulted if he had pushed on with plans for a commercial dock.

    "He grew up in Tarpon Springs . . . and he just didn't want to go head-to-head with the local people and bully his way through," Tarapani said. "So this solved all of that."

    The westernmost island is colloquially known as Goat Island, because of the dozen or so goats that used to graze there, but its formal name is James Island, Tarapani said. The names of the middle island and smallest island to the south are Kristen and Emily islands, respectively.

    Tarapani said he didn't know the origin of the islands' names, but he has an Army Corps of Engineers survey of the river from 1897 that shows the islands existed well before the river was dredged. They were built up with muck dredged from the river in 1935.

    At one time, Tarapani said, the father of former Tarpon Springs mayor George Tsourakis made charcoal on the the island and sold it to sponge boats heading to the Gulf of Mexico to use for cooking at sea.

    Tarapani said he camped on the islands in his youth and remembers that in the 1980s, the islands became a well-known spot for boat owners to abandon their derelict vessels.

    "They'd run them up on the beach and scuttle them," he said. "It was definitely a graveyard for boats."

    The county plans to use revenues from the voter-approved extension to the Penny for Pinellas for the purchase, Kadel said.

    "One of the things we're doing under the Penny for Pinellas extension is we're trying to acquire any islands that are still in private ownership," she said.

    - Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or danielson@sptimes.com.

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