MANATEE -- Moving from the mixed use park Coquina South boat ramp has become, the bayside park will transition into becoming a "true boat ramp facility."
Citing public safety, Charlie Hunsicker, county Parks and Natural Resources Department director, along with county officials and Bradenton Beach officials, shared a proposal to "continue boat launching but pull back from some recreational uses that we believe place people at risk and at harms way," Hunsicker told the Manatee County Commission at Tuesday's meeting.
Proposed actions, which will expand the boat ramp launch and parking capacity and redefine the use as a boat ramp include:
Closing the access road along Gulf Drive from the Coquina North boat ramp to south of the Marine Rescue Headquarters building;
Removing some Australian pines to accommodate an estimated 15 additional trailer parking spaces;
Relocating the barbecue grills and pavilion to the Gulf side of Coquina Beach;
Adding parking barriers to keep vehicles off dunes and landscaped areas; and
Extending the existing no-entry zone on the Gulf side to the bay side.
"Ultimately, closure of the bayside 'beach' is intended to eliminate the mixing of conflicting waterside uses and the associated public safety risks," according to the county
On July 8, several Manatee County departments, city of Bradenton Beach police and building departments and Bradenton Beach Mayor Jack Clarke met to discuss Coquina South issues.
"The amenities are drawing people to an area that are not ideal under the given circumstances," said Alan Lai Happ, county environmental program manager.
Clarke said the project has the full endorsement of the city as it restores the area's intended use.
"I see it as a health and safety issue," he said.
Bradenton Beach police Chief Sam Speciale said there have been problems in the area.
"I think this is a good opportunity to do something that is very proactive," Speciale said. "I think it's something that is going to enhance the useability of the beach before something happens."
Commissioner Carol Whitmore expressed concerns about removing the Australian pines.
"I realize they are invasive but it is part of the heritage," Whitmore said.
Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac called the proposal a "significant change to a recreational area" adding they should call for public input.
"I have no doubt that what you are proposing is for public safety," she said. "We have removed access to the water, which generally goes against what I feel like we should be doing. It does not sit well with me."
Lifelong Manatee County resident Shawn Mayo said he has used the area to launch jet skis for as long as he can remember.
"It seems like something is being taken away from taxpayers and citizens and there is no plan to do anything about it," Mayo said. "The area right there, I just feel like it is a very important direct access to the Gulf of Mexico that I have been utilizing my whole life."
Hunsicker said people can use the shoreline at Coquina North boat ramp to launch.
The commission approved:
Decreasing the monthly memberships fee to G.T. Bray Recreation Center to $20 and the daily guest pass fee to $3.
Setting a public hearing Sept. 22 to discuss speed limits on 12 county roads. A public hearing will be held on the same date about golf cart use on "county roads, crossings and sidewalks."
Signing a letter to support Manatee County Rural Health Services "application for Section 330 funding, which will help them continue to provide access to comprehensive primary health care and support services."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.