HOLMES BEACH – Some Manatee County commissioners may have given up on the fight to save more than 80 trees planned for destruction at Kingfish Boat Ramp, but city officials and residents hope the discovery of an active great blue heron nest in one of the trees will change minds.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore led the fight during a recent meeting to save the pines and palms slated for destruction or relocation at Kingfish as part of planned renovations at the popular park. However, Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge said that he didn’t think saving the trees is a fight that commissioners can win with the renovation plans already at 100% completion and a fall 2023 deadline for finishing the project looming.
Of the 120-140 trees in the park, more than 80 are planned to be removed or relocated to make way for more parking. All of the Australian pine trees, which provide shade along the shoreline and a place for birds to nest, are slated for destruction. As of May 28, dozens of trees at the boat ramp had been marked with caution tape, indicating they are to be removed, though no timeline for the removal was available as of press time for The Sun.
Some are hoping that the discovery of an active bird nest in one of the Australian pines will spur state representatives to halt the destruction of the trees and accompanying picnic area.
While Australian pines are considered an invasive species by the state of Florida, great blue herons are a protected nesting bird species, meaning that while an active nest is located in one of the pines, that tree cannot be disturbed. However, once fledgling herons leave the nest, the tree can be taken down under current regulations. With more and more trees that provide nesting areas for birds being demolished, some area residents are hoping that the nest will be enough to save the trees from the woodchipper.
Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth sent an email to county commissioners asking them again to reconsider the plans for Kingfish and to involve city leaders in any future design plans. Though Kingfish is located in the city of Holmes Beach, it is a county-owned and maintained facility.
During a May 24 city commission meeting, Titsworth said that several of the trees are planned for demolition to make room for a trolley stop to accompany a 100-foot pier that may eventually be a stop for a water taxi, though county leaders have not applied with the city for a change of use for the property. She said that she’d sent photos of the nesting herons to state representatives with the hope that they will step in to halt the destruction of the trees. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission representatives have documented several great blue heron nests in the trees at Kingfish, many with fledglings, she added.
“I think we can be better than that,” she said of the planned tree removal.
Titsworth said the county’s renovation plans will have to go through the city’s planning commission approval process before permits can be issued. She added that if permits are approved, a note will be added that any change of use on the property, such as the addition of a water taxi stop, will require Holmes Beach Commission approval.
Resident Joe Arena said in an email to The Sun that he and his family are saddened by the planned destruction of the picnic area. He said that he and his wife have spent a lot of time relaxing at the picnic tables, enjoying the shade and bird watching.
Area resident Teal O’Fee said she hopes that county commissioners will listen to the concerns of their constituents over the destruction of the trees and nesting area and change course. She said she’s hoping more people will lend their voices to the cause and that a solution can be found to preserve the area.
As of press time for The Sun, no specific opportunities for public comment on the Kingfish renovations was scheduled with Manatee County commissioners, however, all commission meetings are open to the public and offer a public comment opportunity on any topic of concern.
The next county commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7 at 8:30 a.m. at the Manatee County Government Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W. in Bradenton.