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Ribbon-cutting ceremony lauds Blind Pass project

By Staff | Jan 20, 2010

Sanibel Mayor Mick Denham, right, took time to salute the individuals and groups responsible for assisting with the Blind Pass Ecosystem Restoration Project. Looking on are Lee County Commissioners Bob Janes, left, and Brian Bigelow.

A little more than 13 months after dredging began, the now-completed – and naturally-reopened – Blind Pass Ecosystem Restoration Project was heralded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration held at Turner Beach Regional Park on Captiva last Friday morning.

More than 100 onlookers, individuals and members of groups and organizations responsible for the construction project, which cost $2.5 million to complete, gathered on the beachfront just west of Blind Pass. Dignitaries attending the ceremony included members of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, the Captiva Erosion Prevention District, the City of Sanibel, the Lee County Tourist Development Council, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

At the start of the festivities, Sanibel resident and Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes led the salute to the flag.

“If anything, I’d like to see this beach dedicated as Alison Hagerup Beach,” said Janes, referring to the former administrator of the CEPD who passed away in 2008. “I remember back in the 1980s when we started looking into working on this project, it always seemed that one thing would happen or something else would happen.”

“It is finally done now, and she would be very happy,” he added.

Local dignitaries were invited to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which drew a crowd of more than 100 to Turner Beach, just west of Blind Pass.

Among the project goals were providing a stable pass opening, which also has a five-year maintenance schedule, increasing water circulation in Clam Bayou and Dinkins Bayou, improving the habitat for mangroves, seagrasses, shorebirds and fisheries and enhancing recreational opportunities in the pass and along the beach on the Sanibel side.

“We should all be very proud of this, for our islands,” said Mick Denham, Mayor of Sanibel. “This is a wonderful addition that will enhance our islands. It is going to benefit both tourists and residents.”

Mike Mullins, chairman of the Captiva Erosion Prevention District, called the completed project a “celebration of life” during his speech.

“The pass is a symbolic reminder that despite barriers and burdens, life still goes on. Life finds a way,” he said. “The strong current ripping through the pass is like a strong heart, pumping life into the ecosystem; pushing life into all the outer extremities, the bayous, Roosevelt Channel and Pine Island sound. Life is pumping into our ecology and even to our local economy.”

Tony Lapi, Member Ex-Officio for the Lee County Tourist Development Council, told the crowd that since the pass reopened in late July, there have been substantial benefits witnessed by many.

Mike Mullins of the Captiva Erosion Prevention District called the completed project a "celebration of life" during his speech.

“The recreational part has been terrific,” he said. “Those people who have been kayaking here have gone a little bit further than they thought they could. And coming over the bridge at night and seeing all of the fisherman off the pass… I like seeing activities like that. I haven’t seen that in a long time.”

Paul Tritaik, manager of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, added that he was very proud of the work that was done and thanked all who contributed to the success of the project.

“We were pleased to help and want to thank everyone at Lee County,” said Tritaik. “This couldn’t have happened without all of the partners contributing towards this project. We’re all a part of a very special place we call Sanibel and Captiva.”

While Mother Nature can be credited with the reopening of the pass this past summer, a little ahead of the project’s schedule, Mullins also took time to reflect upon recent events.

“Nature dealt Haiti a cruel blow, a devastating earthquake estimated to have displaced millions and to have killed more than 50,000, to have killed more than anyone can bear,” he said. “Yes, bitter memories, but reminders to those of us on these islands of Sanibel and Captiva of the blessings we have, reminders to all of us to celebrate by sharing our good fortune with our fellow human beings, whether in desperate Haiti or the needy of Lee County.”

Lee County Commissioner and Sanibel resident Bob Janes.

Following the ribbon-cutting, attendees enjoyed live music and refreshments.

Additional thanks were offered to Tarpon Bay Explorers, South Seas Island Plantation, Billy’s Rentals, Island Water Association, Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, ‘Tween Waters Inn, the Coastal Advisory Council, Captiva Community Planning Panel, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Bayous Preservation Association.

Sanibel City Councilman Jim Jennings, left, and J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR manager Paul Tritaik.