APOLLO BEACH — Despite the community’s name, visitors would be hard-pressed to find the beach in Apollo Beach.
Twenty years of erosion have stripped away the beach’s sand, leaving behind a rocky berm that’s hardly suitable for sun bathing and sand castles.
However, Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group President Len Berkstresser told a gathering of about 70 Apollo Beach residents Aug. 25 that, if all goes as planned, residents will once again enjoy the beach life by this time next year.
“We plan to put the beach back in Apollo Beach,” said Berkstresser at the town hall meeting.
A plan three years in the making, the improvement group intends to use sand dredged from three Tampa Bay channels off Apollo Beach to create a 2- to 3-acre beach on a county preservation site in Apollo Beach. At the same time, the dredging of the canals will eliminate 9,000 cubic yards of silt that has kept residents’ boats from accessing the bay during low tide. The newly dredged canals will be 61 feet wide and 7 ½ feet deep.
ABWIG is awaiting a final OK from regulatory agencies before starting the bid process for a dredge contractor this fall. The group hopes to begin dredging the canals in June 2014, completing the work by October 2014.
What began as an attempt to make Apollo Beach’s channels more navigable for boats has become a $250,000 grassroots-based community improvement project in partnership with the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, said Berkstresser.
“This has been an evolving effort,” he said. “The idea to dredge the channels has grown into a park restoration and seagrass mitigation project.”
It’s an effort Berkstresser feels is vital for Apollo Beach to flourish.
“It’s about maintaining a lifestyle in Apollo Beach,” he said. “If we don’t keep the channels navigable, boats can’t get in and out. And when boats are stuck, property values drop. That affects everyone in Apollo Beach, not just those living on the water.”
Apollo Beach resident Brad Ahlgren said he faces that dilemma every time he wants to go sailing.
“My sailboat has a deep draft and I can’t get through the channels during low tide,” he said. “I have to time my trips just right so I can get out and back in. This (the dredging) will help tremendously.”
To date, ABWIG has raised nearly $225,000 for the project including $10,000 from a casino night at Mira Bay, $7,000 from a mystery dinner theater at the Tavern on the Boulevard restaurant and, at last week’s meeting, Gary Kaukonen and his team at Keller Williams Realty SouthShore presented a check to ABWIG for another $10,000. ABWIG also has received funding from corporate sponsors.
ABWIG hopes to raise another $10,000 during a bowling and car show fundraiser at The Alley at South Shore on Sunday, Oct. 20.
“The $250,000 is just an estimate,” Berkstresser told the residents. “We don’t really know what it will cost. The scope of the project has changed so it could cost more money.”
When the canals were last dredged in 1993, the cost was $65,000. Twenty years later, it will cost twice that amount to dredge the same canals.
Additionally, a boating mishap on Sunday, Sept. 10, could cost ABWIG $3,000.
On that day, a 30-foot Sea Ray boat struck the 25-foot-long, 2,800-pound concrete piling marking the beginning of the channel near Andalucia. The piling, which was equipped with a solar light to alert boaters, is now sitting just beneath the surface of the water at a 45-degree angle.
Fernando Lopez, a marine park ranger for the county, is trying to figure out a way to raise the piling. In the meantime, he’s placed a severe hazardous warning marker to warn away boaters.
Once the piling is put back in place, ABWIG will have to replace the solar light at a cost of $3,000 unless the owner of the Sea Ray can be identified and held responsible for the cost.
“That piling stood for 43-44 years,” said Berkstresser. “Now it’s our responsibility to get it back up.”
However, if ABWIG does exceed its $250,000 budget, Berkstresser said he’s confident the group can obtain additional funds from the Hillsborough County Commission.
“They’ve been very supportive of this project,” he said. “I think we can pretty much count on them to come up with more money if needed.”
One way or another, Berkstresser said the project will be completed.
“I’m not going to quit until it’s done, and you can take that to the bank,” he told residents.
Once completed, residents will enjoy navigable canals and a sandy beach for 12 to 15 years before nature again washes away the sand and fills the canals.