A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Midnight Pass: Post Election, Post Denial

Saturday Dec. 20 2008 • One the challenges of being a candidate is how to maintain honesty and integrity while avoiding situations and positions that needlessly alienate portions of the electorate. You don't tug on Superman's cape, but you have an obligation to let Superman know what you think, particularly if he asks you directly.

Another challenge is separating personal feelings and positions from one's appropriate for a commissioner. While it is appropriate to bring one's experiences to bear on issues facing the commission, there is a big difference between what might be best for the county as a whole and what an individual might feel best represents their pre-commission constituency.

So during the campaign I didn't feature Midnight Pass, but neither did I shy away from it. I went and spoke (when I didn't have to) at Pelican Cove, brought up the subject and stayed after to chat with people. The vast majority of Pelican Cove residents would prefer an open pass and I gave them the condensed version of my concerns about that. I wrote three blog entries that dealt directly or indirectly with Midnight Pass. One about Big Pass, one about coastal challenges in general and one about a canoe trip to Midnight Beach. And I responded to people who emailed me about my position. [Sample response provided below.]

And although I left the door open to ways I might support a new channel, the two leaders of the Midnight Pass Society circulated emails against me, which, in my opinion, violated the spirit, if not the letter of the law that restrains non-profits from political activity. That wasn't a big surprise because MPS has used questionable tactics in the past. 

Now, a month and a half later, two things have changed. The permitting agencies have said no to the County's proposal and I no longer have to think as if I were a commissioner. As a result, I have a new take on the matter, one you may be able to read about in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in the next few days. 


Dear .......

I spent plenty of time on North Creek and around the pass in the late 70's and early 80's and I worked (hard) to acquire the entire Midnight Pass area for public use (the failed Oaks referendum) and I also fought to keep Midnight Pass open. In late 1983 I testified at the Midnight Pass hearings against the doomed scheme to "relocate" the pass. Maybe you were there too. Many of us shook our heads in disbelief when the County and State approved permits to artificially close the pass. All of this took place before the Midnight Pass Society was formed.

Once the beachfront residents and their consultants closed the migrating pass and failed to create a new channel, the County relieved them of the requirement to re-establish a new pass. Letting them off the hook left us with no pass, but also suggested that the viability of a pass in that area was in question.

I was selected by the County Commission to serve (as a volunteer) on the Blue Ribbon Panel on Midnight Pass (1984) where I supported (and I may have helped draft) a plan sent to Tallahassee that called for a major one-time opening of the pass, followed by a hands-off, see-what-happens approach. Our premise was to "re-set" the system to see if a natural pass could sustain itself, if the natural ebb and flow of the tides could keep the pass open. If not, then it would be clear that attempts to maintain a pass would be working contrary to the natural hydrodynamics of the area. In other words, we wanted to see if a natural pass could persist without perpetual tinkering and management. We felt that Midnight Pass should be self-maintaining and not require a lot of ongoing management (and public dollars).

Unfortunately, that bold consensus initiative was rejected by the state.

In 1995 I once again participated in a series of professionally facilitated meetings (the Little Sarasota Bay Forums) with the goal of reaching another community consensus. At that time many of us demonstrated a willingness to put community consensus above entrenched positions. All participating stakeholders, including the Sierra Club (which I represented), Audubon Society and Midnight Pass Society agreed to a Policy Goal and Implementation Recommendations that were later adopted by the Sarasota County Commission. I've never "worked for" the county on the pass issue as a paid employee or contractor.

While it was not the preferred outcome for any group, it did represent community consensus and I believe the stakeholders who agreed to it have an obligation to support it.

Consequently, I stand by the County's adopted 1995 position. Soon we should know if state permits can be issued and (if it can be permitted) many of us will be looking closely to see if the plans are consistent with the goals and implementation recommendations adopted by the stakeholders and the County.

In addition to determining if the proposed project meets its adopted goals, the County Commission also has an obligation to carefully consider the costs associated with re-opening and maintaining a pass. I'm confident that, if it wanted to, the county commission could find the money for the initial project. But, in addition to the challenge of identifying a revenue source, the County Commission will need assess opportunity costs for other now crucial coastal management objectives, including waterway access, red tide, and bacterial contamination of our beaches. These concerns were much lower profile years ago and fiscal responsibility dictates consideration of how we will (or won't) fund all needed coastal management projects.

I've been working on the opportunities and challenges of the Midnight Pass areas in various ways since the pass was open. Since then I've been willing to listen and work with people from all parts of the community to try to reach consensus on this contentious issue. There is no reason to believe that will change once I am elected.

Sincerely, Jono Miller

P.S. This is difficult community issue that should have been resolved years ago. Some may question my analysis and some my question my judgment. But let no one question my commitment to Sarasota's coastal resources. Whether as a member of the National Estuary Program's Citizen's Advisory Committee, walking and documenting all our beaches with students, using a NOAA grant to study neighborhood stormwater impacts, working to find alternatives to the City of Sarasota's Whitaker effluent discharge, meeting for years to secure funds needed to increase public access to our waterways, studying spoil islands with a National Science Foundation grant, documenting recreational use of Sarasota Bay or teaching about our environment, I have spent nearly forty years working on behalf of our coastal resources because, as I have been known to say, our coastal resources are what makes Sarasota County different from DeSoto County. Since it is clear that coastal resource issues are of major importance to you, I would encourage you to look closely at the records of all three of us District One candidates before casting your vote. There is more at stake here than just Midnight Pass.

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