The plan was to remove Australian pine trees from Coquina Beach. The plan is now on hold

Bradenton Beach mayor pleads for county to save trees

Australian Pine trees are set to be removed from the picnic area at Coquina Beach, but Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie urged commissioners to slow the parking lot project down and reconsider the removal.
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Australian Pine trees are set to be removed from the picnic area at Coquina Beach, but Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie urged commissioners to slow the parking lot project down and reconsider the removal.

The days of lounging in the shade at Coquina Beach are in danger after county workers labeled some of the trees at the popular beach for removal amid parking and drainage improvements.

Construction on the revamped parking lot in the city of Bradenton Beach began about two months ago, but visitors and city officials are worried about plans to knock down the Australian pines near the picnic area. As of Tuesday afternoon, trees in the work area had been tagged with red X’s to denote their removal.

Those plans were put on pause, County Administrator Cheri Coryea said at a Tuesday afternoon commission meeting.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, a former county commissioner, urged the board to reconsider demolition plans at Coquina Beach.

“Australian pine trees, despite their designation as an invasive species and nuisance tree, do provide, in fact, tremendous benefits to our residents, visitors, as well as the birds and the wildlife,” Chappie told the board. “This is the right plant in the right location, and it really is, folks.”

When Public Works and Parks and Natural Resources officials discussed the project with the Board of County Commissioners in September, they promised to keep tree removal to a minimum.

“We’re only removing trees in areas where it’s absolutely necessary,” Chad Butzow, interim director of public works, said at a commission workshop in September.

At that same meeting, parks director Charlie Hunsicker noted that the Australian pines are an invasive species, and while the county had previously opted to remove them from newly acquired county parks and preserves, they agreed to keep using them in the future for shade and recreation.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Betsy Benac also spoke to the need for the shade the Australian pines provide for beachgoers.

“I love the shade. They provide shade and we all know from this weekend, shade is invaluable,” said Benac, referencing the recent heat and reports of colossal crowds on the beach for Memorial Day weekend. “I’ve heard many stories about Australian pines and that they aren’t good for the habitat. Well, they’re good for this habitat.”

But Benac also pointed to the trees as a source of the drainage issues the county is trying to fix with the construction of a parking lot that will use permeable concrete to remedy the flooding that plagued the area for years.

“My understanding is it’s a drainage issue. It has nothing to do with line of sight. It has nothing to do with trees overhead,” she said. “It is a drainage issue and that’s what the problem is.”

The trees cause a number of environmental problems, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The shallow roots encourage beach erosion, prevent sea turtles from nesting in the area and subject the trees to a higher likelihood of toppling during a storm. The leaf litter also tends to kill native vegetation that sits below Australian pines.

The city of Bradenton Beach had previously partnered with Manatee County on the project, knocking $200,000 off the cost of permitting fees for the Coquina Beach project. According to Chappie, there was no mention of tree removal at that time.

“We would just like to take a breath and come back and look at this. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to draw a straight line and remove things in the way of that straight line. Please let’s get together and be creative and think of something. There’s a couple acres of open space. I can’t believe there’s not things that can be done,” Chappie said.

Coryea assured Chappie that county staff will put together a report of alternative options, including Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s recommendation to look at what kinds of trees could replace the Australian pines.

“There’s no removal that’s going to happen until we come back to you and you make your final choice, and it will be soon,” Coryea told commissioners. “We don’t want to put our project at risk, so we will meet back here shortly.”