The first public hearing of the Amendment 1 era was held Tuesday night in Ruskin. The subject was a sensitive 10-year management plan for Cockroach Bay Preserve State Park. A feather – ideally from a roseate spoonbill – could have cut the tension.Then the meeting at SouthShore Regional Library ended in applause for a revised DEP proposal that calls for more spending and a get-tougher policy against invasive plants.
The new plan by the Department of Environmental Protection will essentially cut an eight-year timetable to fight nonnative plants to two years. Spending against invasive species such as Brazilian pepper, Australian pine and carrotwood will double to $60,000. That's up from $29,680 in an initial plan that took some public hits, including the location of the first hearing, and triggered a newspaper editorial.
“I’m delighted to see the changes that were made in response to the public concerns about the invasive species,” said Mariela Smith, a Ruskin resident and Sierra Club member. “I’m also thrilled to see this boundary modification added.”
Sine Murray, assistant chief of the DEP’s Office of Park Planning, said the proposal will seek to expand the “optimum boundary” of the park by acquiring an 88-acre land parcel north of Goat Island and west of Snake Island.
“This particular property has one owner, is largely undeveloped and provides connectivity between Cockroach Bay and other conservation lands that are managed by Hillsborough County,” Murray said.
The new land was on the DEP’s radar for several years, when “the state wasn’t really in an acquisition frame of mind,” Murray said. Funds for the purchase could come out of the park service budget, which figures to grow under Amendment 1.
“From a recreation standpoint, if [the land] should be acquired, clearly we could create a high-quality land-base with picnicking, a canoe/kayak lodge, so people could really access these islands,” Murray said.
The park, surrounded by Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, is a 615-acre ribbon of undeveloped coastline in south Hillsborough County and accessible only by watercraft.
“As a park planner we really need to get a land base that will make it a [complete] state park,” Murray said.
The park’s habitat includes 17 acres of coastal berm, 43 acres of salt marsh and 504 acres of mangrove swamp and supports a stunning range of animals and plants, including more than a dozen state or federal species of concern, such as the spoonbill.
The next step, Murray said, is the Acquisition and Restoration Council, which is scheduled to meet Feb. 13 in Tallahassee.
“Now, can we can do something about the robins that spread the [exotic plant] seed?” said Bill Burger, an archaeologist.
Gus Muench wants state and county officials to also honor the Uzita Indians, who settled Cockroach Bay. "We need to remember these people," Muench said. "This was paradise to them." (Daily Fray)