How About a Toll Bridge to Raise Money for the Indian River Lagoon?

The Jensen Bridge was completed in 1927. (Photographer unknown, photo courtesy of Bob Washam.)
The Jensen Bridge was completed in 1927. (Photographer unknown, photo courtesy of Bob Washam.)

The idea of a toll bridge over the Indian River Lagoon is not a new one as there were toll bridges in Jensen and Stuart in Martin County’s early days.

Toll Tickets for the Jensen Bridge. Courtesy Bob Washam.
Toll Tickets for the Jensen Bridge. Courtesy Bob Washam.
Cover of toll ticket packet for Jensen Bridge. Courtesy Bob Washam.
Cover of toll ticket packet for Jensen Bridge. Courtesy Bob Washam.

As my mother says in her Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River book:

“People fishing on both side os the Jensen Bridge made it necessary for automobiles to cross the narrow wooden bridge with extreme  caution.” 

Over time, we have had caution for people, but not for fish.

This morning the Tyler Treadway’s article in the Stuart News states there has been a catfish kill along the Indian River Lagoon Ft Pierce north; it is not yet reported to be in Martin County; in the 1920s no such virus or water quality issues prevailed and fishing was the sport of the day, some of the best in the nation, along the bridges, in the forks, in the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon, along the clean and sparkling Atlantic Ocean…

Unidentified man with Goliath Grouper caught in area. Photo courtesy of Bob Washam.
Unidentified man with Goliath Grouper caught in Jensen area. Photo courtesy of Bob Washam.

Mrs Thurlow writes in her book:

The Jensen Bridge was instrumental in the development of Jensen with its numerous tourists camps. In the 1930s, the Pitchford, Gideon, and Wade camps sprang up at the western end of the bridge. Other camps, including the massive Ocean Breeze Park, soon followed. The Jensen Bridge was given so much publicity that it became a nationally famous fishing pier.”

"the Jensen Beach Bridge was advertised in the Martin County Chamber of Commerce Fishing Guide, published in 1935. (Courtesy of Robert McClinton Pitchford, Thurlow archives.)
“The Jensen Beach Bridge was advertised in the Martin County Chamber of Commerce Fishing Guide, published in 1935. (Courtesy of Robert McClinton Pitchford, Thurlow archives.)

Today the Indian River Lagoon is still famous for fishing, but also for its seagrass loss and declining fish stock. Yesterday, my father gave me an issue of Florida Sport Fishing, the lead article was entitled “Gator County, Florida ‘s Famed East Coast Lagoon System May No Longer Be the State’s Premier Destination for Giant Trout,” by Jerry McBride.

The beginning of the article reads:

“Two miles of previously lush green vegetation dotted with sandy potholes and carved by narrow channels–once home to monster gator trout–has been reduced to a single acre of sparse seagrass, I fished the entire stretch in less than an hour and paddled home… The estuary’s south end is losing its 80 plus year battle against polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee, while the rest of the 156 miles long waterways faces an even more insidious adversary—a multi-source nutrient-fueled brown algae scourge that virtually overnight reduced 43,000 acres of rich seagrass habitat to a sandy desert…”

Most of this seagrass loss may have happened north of us, but it is here too. Also, the lagoon is one waterway, whether it is Lake Okeechobee and local canal releases here in Martin County,  or brown tide in the central and north lagoon, we are all affected.

Usually on Friday I try to post something positive and happy.

I have been wanting to share friend Bob Washam’s Jensen Bridge photos,  today was the day.  Nonetheless, I could not ignore the slow and now pronounced losses to our Indian River Lagoon, especially in light of Mr Treaway’s article this morning.

If the tin-can tourist who hardly had a nickel in their packs could be raised from their graves to see what has happened to the Indian River Lagoon,  I am certain they would say:

“You may have more money, but you sure lost a piece of Heaven…and which would you rather have?”

One good thing is that nature is programmed to heal itself, may we have the strength to continue to fight for some semblance of the “good old days,” and should we need to exact a toll on our bridges to start an IRL Fund, I’ll vote “yes.”



Stuart News announcement 10/10/14:

Catfish die-off hits lagoon
By Tyler Treadway 772-221-4219

Thousands of dead hardhead catfish are floating in the Indian River Lagoon from Palm Bay to Fort Pierce.

Because only one species is affected and all the dead fish are juveniles mostly from 4 to 12 inches long, a local marine biologist believes the cause is a specific virus rather than poor water quality in the lagoon.

Weve had die-offs like this in the lagoon before, where only sea cats and nothing else was dying,said Grant Gilmore, lead scientist of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science in Vero Beach.

The cause was a viral infection back then, so I would assume its the same this time. Kelly Richmond, a spokeswoman at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission laboratory in St. Petersburg, said the agencys hotline has received 16 reports of dead catfish beginning Monday.

Staffers collected three live catfish and water samples from the lagoon for analysis.

Results should be available early next week, Richmond said, and the agency wont guess at a cause until then.

Paul Fafeita, a Vero Beach fishing guide, said he saw dead catfish Wednesday morning in the lagoon from the Barber Bridge in Vero Beach to the North Causeway bridge at Fort Pierce.

Im talking hundreds, if not thousands of dead fish,Fafeita said.­They werent sporadic, one here and one there. They were steady, up and down the lagoon. Mike Peppe, a Sebastian fishing guide, reported seeing dead catfish Wednesday in the lagoon from Wabasso to the Sebastian Inlet.

They were everywhere,Peppe said.There had to be thousands. Look down and youd see a bunch of white things in the waterthe catsbellies.

12 thoughts on “How About a Toll Bridge to Raise Money for the Indian River Lagoon?

  1. Interesting article on the history of bridges and tolling in Indian River County. I’m all for protecting the IRL as well, but I wonder if a toll bridge would achieve a proper cause and effect relationship between the polluter and the tax? No doubt stormwater runoff from bridges is one source of pollution to the IRL. But aren’t other sources much more responsible, such as polluted water runoff from canal system, etc?

      1. I would be very curious to hear about possible Pigovian taxes that could be implemented as economic disincentives to help fix IRL. You seem very knowledgable about the issues and would like to hear your take. thanks for writing!

  2. What’s the problem? USACE and SFWMD haven’t been making releases from Lake O this year (at least not major releases that I am aware of). Why is water quality still bad, is it from local run off? Would a surge form the lake flush the fish kill virus out of the area? Seems like if its not one thing its another.

    1. I am not sure. But the poor WQ issues have built up over time. The river needs time with less local canal and Lake O releases. Like 10 years. I just read that the virus the catfish have is prevalent is aquaculture catfish farms. Some are located west of lake O I am told. Perhaps it has spread somehow. It happens when the density of the fish is too close. I know it is very depressing and seems like there is no end. We have to fight for a future we may never see… Thanks for your input and for caring.

  3. It’s an idea worth discussing, but it would be unfair to anyone who lives on the island as they would have to pay the most. Perhaps is residents on the island could be granted a free-pass or some limited amount of free-toll or reduced fee program then it would make more “cents”

    1. You are right about that. Islanders would have to have a special pass or a sticker if something like this were ever done which I doubt. In Pensacola where I lived they had such a sticker it was affordable.

  4. Melbourne built its first wooden bridge in the 20’s. The supports that held the wooden pileings up were made from coquina cement. They were about 6 foot long and square(not round) Big at the bottom and narrow at the top(where the pileing was) . Back then all the coquina rock was soft and could be broken apart and tamped in a mold–about 3 inchs at a time. Burnt coquina was added to make it harden faster–otherwise it would take about 2 years. The bridge was about 1.9 miles long. The pileings are still there on the east side. The reason this is important is because they did not understand the important role this SOFT coquina played in keeping the IRL a healthy ,dynamic ecosystem.

  5. Henry Flagler was called the builder of Florida and he built early Florida using coquina cement. The IRL is where all the baby creatures start there lives and the milk that feed them came from the calcium in the soft coquina. The milk of the Lagoon has now been replaced with acid.

  6. On one blog someone wrote that many years ago the smell of sea grass was so bad it tarnished their silver. Recently we had millions of tons of sea weed washed up on our beachs.Their was no smell because the salt from the ocean and the calcium sand created an environment that allowed calcium peroxide to burn up the sea weed. The salt probably keep bacteria out.If only we had sea grass washing up in our lagoon so I could see if salt mixed with calcium sand could stop it from stinking..

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