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A Little Dock Makes Big Waves in Tampa Bay Area

August 5, 2008

Clearwater, FL – Plans to build a private dock on what has been a public beach have triggered waves of protest in Pinellas County. To make room for the dock, a Crystal Beach man has asked the county to give up the public right-of-way on county-owned land behind his home.

Neighborhood groups, conservation groups, fishing organizations and surfers say public beaches should stay public. A hearing, and possible decision, on the request is scheduled today before the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners.

Crystal Beach resident Jane Charland says public access and ownership of the shoreline is essential for recreation and conservation.

"The Pinellas County Land Use Plan says we need to preserve public land – keep and maintain it in an unaltered condition. That's the very opposite of giving it away."

Charland also warns that if the county says "Yes," it will set a precedent for more requests to give public land to private parties. She says the public owns the land and should not be cut off from what she describes as a very special place.

"You can see dolphins swimming by. You can see roseate spoonbills flying overhead. You know, we want to keep the beach pristine."

The man who wants to build the dock says he would grant public access after the right-of-way is vacated. Even if the Pinellas County commissioners approve the request, the dock still must be signed off on by state and federal government agencies.

The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners hearing is at 9:30 a.m., 315 Court St., Clearwater.

Deborah Smith/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - FL