Manatee drainage project has market worried about its future
The smell of barbecue and the sound of music engulfs the picnic area at Coquina Beach on most days. People describe it as “a special place.”
Among the reasons people are drawn to Coquina Beach is the Australian pines that line the shore and cover the area at the southernmost point that offers picnic tables and barbecue grills.
Tons of people hang out in the shady area celebrating, hammocking and relaxing.
But the adored Australian pines might be removed because of a new drainage improvement project created by the Manatee County government. If put into action, it would affect about 10 percent of those 991 Australian pines.
A large chunk of the pines in question line the trail that accommodates the Coquina Beach Market, which has grown immensely since its small beginnings five years ago. But despite its success, vendors are worried about its future.
“We may not be able to be here in the summer (if the pines are removed), because the trees give us shade,” said Nancy Ambrose, owner and manager of the market. “Visitors and vendors think the trees are part of the charm of Coquina Beach. It makes it special.”
One vendor said she’s assembling a group to “hug the trees when the bulldozers come to take them.”
“I’ve never protested anything in my life, but I am protesting this,” said Debbie Marsoobian. “They can physically remove me.”
Marsoobian, who has lived in the area for 11 years and walks the beach every day, said she was devastated when she heard the news.
“I can’t believe they would do this. It makes no sense to me,” she said. “Coquina Beach is so special; it’s my paradise… (The county is) just going to do what they want, and that’s what I’m afraid of. It will be a sad, sad day.”
Although not all the vendors are in on the tree-hugging protest, they all agree: The Australian pines should stay.
“Without the trees, it will just be another beach,” said Mary Roff, a jewelry designer. “The thing I find aggravating is that everyone is against it, yet the county government is once again going against the people’s wishes — which is almost more angering than the tree issue.”
“I’d rather have the trees than drainage,” said Savitri Brant, owner of Morningwood Growers, a local nursery. “It’s disappointing. We’ll lose shade. It makes a really nice walkway.”
Some vendors said they won’t participate in the market if the project progresses and the pines are removed.
Ralph Vandaveer, with Eden’s Nectar, has been selling his locally sourced honey at the market since it began five years ago.
“If that’s done, a lot of us vendors won’t come back. (The pines are) part of the beauty that’s been here all these years,” Vandaveer said. “(The removal project) will reduce the amount of business because people come out here for the beauty of the trees.”
Michael Heller, another vendor, said he signed the petition to stop the project, which has more than 1,000 signatures.
“They didn’t even warn anyone in the city,” he said. “The nature here is one of the reasons why people come here.”
The petition, which was given to county commissioners, states: “We beseech you to come up with an alternative plan for the Coquina drainage project that does not include cutting down these majestic trees.”
Vendors, locals and even tourists were buzzing about the controversial issue on Sunday during the market.
Joyce and Gene Fisher are locals who frequent the beach and like to set their beach chairs up in the sand, right under the edge of the shade.
“We need the trees; I don’t know how they’re going to get away with this,” Joyce Fisher said. “We don’t want them to cut down anything.”
Even tourists such as Gino Juega weighed in on the issue.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “They should plant more trees.”
Construction began in April, but last week, the Board of County Commissioners debated canceling the project. Before the second phase of the project, the board will host a work session to confirm the plan.
The Coquina Beach Market takes place on Sundays from 10a.m. to 4 p.m. until July 28. The market returns in November.