SARASOTA COUNTY –– It’s a little-known project that’s been taking place for a decade in South County that akin to the Celery Fields in North County.
To Commissioner Charles Hines, what’s going on with Dona Bay is even bigger than the Celery Fields.
“This is a huge environmental success story,” Hines said during the May 20 commission meeting. “Statewide, this is an example of how to fix the messes of the past. It makes the Celery Fields seem small.”
Hines remarks came during a discussion to amend the county’s capital improvements program and add the third phase of the Dona Bay restoration project. That phase is the design and permitting for an aquifer recharge project that will add one to three deep injection wells that will divert freshwater from Dona Bay.
The project, which received unanimous approval, is projected to cost $1.6 million with the funds coming from the county’s allocation of Restore Act funding. That act created buckets of money allocated to the states
and counties that were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
The whole idea behind the Dona Bay project is to restore Dona Bay to a more natural freshwater and saltwater balance that existed fifty to sixty years ago. Critical to that was the first phase, now complete, that restored the historic floodplain upstream and restored natural flows into Dona Bay by redirecting water back into the Myakka Basin, after that flow was changed by the dredging of Cowpen Slough in the 1960s according to Paul Semenac, a project controls manager with the county.
The effect of that can be seen today.
Hines showed his colleagues a photo of a small sandbar adjacent to the Venice Jetties with white sand readily visible. Three years ago, Hines said, it wasn’t white. It was a mud bar instead.
“It’s kinda like Nathan Benderson Park,” Hines said. “It takes people from outside to see it and tell you what a great asset you have.”
Semenac added that discussions are already taking place at the staff level about the possibility for future amenities for the property. Soon, he said, an informational sign will be placed at the jetties alerting the public to what is taking place upstream.
“This is one of the county’s success stories,” Commissioner Nancy Detert commented before the vote to approve adding the project to the program.