Seagrass on the west side, right, and east side, below, has not recovered
from illegal dredging three years ago. PHOTO/TROY MORGAN
JEWFISH KEY – The restoration of seagrass beds around Jewfish Key remains in the hands of Mother Nature three years after illegal dredging destroyed it.
Despite $85,000 in fines assessed against eight criminal and civil defendants in the dredging, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has not required any of the wrongdoers to replant destroyed seagrass beds.
"They felt they would return on their own," said Ana Gibbs, external affairs coordinator with the DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement. Another DEP spokeswoman previously said the monitoring that number of defendants for a seagrass recovery period that could take up to 10 years was "unrealistic."
The West Coast Inland Navigation District used sand from maintenance dredging in the nearby Intracoastal Waterway to fill the illegal channels, where seagrass should begin to regrow, Gibbs said.
Since then, the Town of Longboat Key has settled a case over an illegal dock that was built on the east side of the key when the illegal dredging occurred, with an agreement that the dock will be removed and the area restored, Code Enforcement Officer Randy Fowler said.
Multifamily dock slips are planned in one location to allow homeowners to access the water, Jewfish Key homeowner Steve Ellis said.
Seven defendants faced criminal charges for illegal dredging around the key, and four of those plus another defendant faced civil charges of dredging and filling without a permit and "causing pollution so as to harm or injure human health or welfare, animal, plant or aquatic life or property."
Civil charges are pending against Raymond L. Guthrie III and Susan Brown, while three other civil co-defendants have settled, according to Gibbs. Randy Broach and Renae Farrah signed a settlement agreement for $38,000 in damages on June 9, 2008 and Farley Blackman signed a settlement agreement for $30,000 on Feb. 20, 2008, she said.
In the criminal cases, Broach, Farrah and Blackman avoided prosecution by signing pretrial intervention agreements and paying fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Guthrie was adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $2,500. Brown was not charged criminally.
Other criminal defendants were Raymond L. Guthrie Jr., adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $3,307, Carl Mora, who pled to vessel registration violations and was fined $1,750 and Joan Mayers Bergstrom, who developed Jewfish Key in 1988 as La Lenaire Island and pled to misdemeanor dredging with a $1,065 fine.