Tag Archives: bridges to the sea

The Long Forgotten Wetlands of East Ocean Boulevard, SLR/IRL

 

 

4th Street/East Ocean Blvd 1957, Stuart, Florida, Arthur Ruhnke. Courtesy archives of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.  
“See that white strip just below the wetland? That is the extension of Flamingo Drive that skirts the pond behind the old car wash. They just dug a retention pond and conducted the water to it. All of that pineland is covered with condominiums today.” (Cedar Point, Vista Pines, and Kingswood)~ Sandra H. Thurlow


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Today we drive over the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River surrounded by “civilization,” and forget that once it was once a wetland and pine forest full of wildlife. In the course of a lifetime, these things are long forgotten.

The above 1957 photograph hangs in my brother’s law office. When I visit him, I find myself staring at it for long periods of time. It is one of those rare photos that really puts things into  perspective. The road construction through the wetlands, (note it going through the pond, and pine forest) was all taking place around the same time that the “Bridges to the Sea,” from Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and Sewall’s Point to Hutchinson Island, were completed. It’s amazing to see what the landscape once looked like. The road in the photograph, Fourth Street, was renamed “East Ocean Boulevard” in 1960, and is a major thoroughfare to the  beaches today.

Jenny, Todd and I 1973, alligator in background.
I remember early East Ocean Blvd, although it was already quite changed by the time I was born in 1964. My family lived at 109 Edgewood Drive in Stuart, a short distance away from these wetland ponds under development. I recall Scrub Jays in our back yard and feeding them peanuts. By 1974 the family moved across the river to Sewall’s Point “growing and improving” with the changing landscape.

By 1979, when I was fifteen  years old, riding my bike over the bridge to Stuart to work at the Pelican Car Wash, the beautiful wetland pond had been relegated to a retention pond for run off.  Over the next two decades, you didn’t see wetlands and ponds anymore, or wildlife, just condominiums, office buildings, and shopping plazas. The state four-laned East Ocean Boulevard and built higher bridges to the ocean too.

Believe it or not, the pond in the aerial is still located behind a gas station that used to be the car wash. It is not even a shadow of its former self. Two days ago, I drove by and noticed that there was an extensive algae bloom in the pond backed up to the  parking lot and gas pumps; the water reflecting a sickly shade of green.

I sat there thinking about the long forgotten pond in the middle of East Ocean Boulevard in the photo I love in my brother’s office, wishing the developers had figured out a way to go around the pond. As the shortest distance between two points, over time, is not always a straight line.

East Ocean Blvd 1957, courtesy historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Flamingo and retention pond at Flamingo and East Ocean 2017, once a wetland.
Google map of East Ocean Blvd. through what was once wetland and forest, 2017.
1940s Dept of Agriculture photographs of Martin County showing wetlands. Courtney Todd Thurlow and UF archives.
Overlay 1940 aerials over Google map today, Todd Thurlow.
USDA History of Wetland Development in Florida: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/fl/newsroom/features/?cid=stelprdb1252222

Bridges to the Sea, Luckhardt Vignette TCPalm Series: http://archive.tcpalm.com/news/historical-vignettes–martin-county-bridges-and-bridge-tenders-ep-306449407-342336761.html

Building Bridges, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

"Bridges to the Sea," Stuart to Sewall's Point to Hurchinson Island and the Atlantic Ocean, 1965, Rhunke Collection, Thurlow Archives.
“Bridges to the Sea,” Stuart, to Sewall’s Point, to Hutchinson Island and the Atlantic Ocean, 1965. Rhunke Collection, Thurlow Archives.

Since the 1960s, I have seen many bridges destroyed and rebuilt, right here in Martin County. They are symbolic of our history, our accomplishments, and our struggles.

I may be making this up in my memory, but I think I recall my parents driving me over the Palm City bridge when I was a kid and it was made of wood. The clunk of slow-moving, heavy car,  over the uneven planks was somehow comforting, like the rhythm of a familiar horse. But times change, and bigger and “better” bridges are built…

The best bridge summary of Martin County I have ever read was written by local historian, Alice Luckhart. You can read it here: (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/historical-vignettes-martin-county-bridges-and-bri)

The “bridges to the sea,” from Stuart, to Sewall’s Point, to Hutchinson Island–over the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon were built in 1958. Sandra Henderson Thurlow, in her book, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community of Florida’s Treasure Coast, discusses how the relative isolation of Sewall’s Point ended in 1958 when, two “bridges to the sea opened.” For 10 cents, one could come to Sewall’s Point, and for  25 cents, one could go all the way to the ocean. The tolls were removed in 1961 and the bridges formally named in 1965: “Evans Crary Sr,” and “Ernst F. Lyons”– going west to east.

I am almost sure, I also remember, my mother, or some history person, telling me “they” did not name the bridges right away as it was a political “hot potato.” Perhaps in the beginning there had been controversy regarding building the bridges and certain people did not want their names associated with them until the political fumes dissipated and settled upon something else? Perhaps I am making this up? Like my fuzzy romanticized memory of wooden bridge in Palm City?

I don’t know. But what I do know, is that bridges allow us to cross over, to get to the other side.

I am trying to build bridges to send water south to the Everglades and save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This means working with the sugar industry; the South Florida Water Management District; the Governor; the state and federal Legislature; the Army Corp of Engineers; the County; and most of all the people who live along the Treasure Coast.

I must admit, jokingly, sometimes I feel like “jumping off the bridge.” But I won’t. With your help, I will rebuild it; make it higher, more beautiful, and less damaging to the environment. And hopefully, in the end, we will all be inspired!

Causeways Choking the Indian River Lagoon

The Jensen Beach Bridge's causeway, built in 1957-58, as all causewayed bridges to the sea, severely blocked the slow flow of the Indian River Lagoon impacting the health of the river. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
The Jensen Beach Bridge’s causeway, built in 1957-58, severely blocked the flow of the Indian River Lagoon, impacting its flow like a choked artery.  Many causeways along the lagoon continue to do this  today. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

“Take your hands off my neck, ” she whispers…

The Indian River Lagoon is not a “river;” she is a “lagoon.” She has no “headwaters “like a true flowing river, but is rather a 156 miles depression along 40% of the Florida’s east coast. The lagoon once contained naturally cleaned waters from surrounding vegetated lands, brooks, larger tributaries and had the benefit of naturally opening and closing inlets to the ocean.

Today not only are its inlet fixed, but the lagoon’s water contains run off from polluted/populated surrounding surface waters, naturally rising and falling salty/nutrient filled groundwaters, and those of impacted water bodies  like the Crane Creek in Melbourne or the St Lucie River in Stuart. These water bodies have been channelized and engineered to take on sometimes as much as 50% more fresh water through drainage of lands and lakes than than Mother Nature planned; of course, it ends up in the IRL as it goes to sea.

The lagoon’s water moves only through tides and wind. In some areas of the lagoon where there are no inlets, it is estimated that the water can remain “there” for over three years or more. Even close to an inlet, like here in Sewall’s Point, causeways heavily impact the ability of the lagoon’s water to move and flow cleaning itself, becoming  becoming stagnant.

The lagoon was formed over many ice-ages with the rise  and fall of the ocean. According to the History of Martin County, “evidence of comparatively recent rise of ocean levels during the past 10,00 years is frequently found in the spoil and dredging of operations along the Indian River through fossils of giant mammals.”

It may have taken thousands of years for Nature to form the lagoon but mankind is close  to destroying  it in just under 100; one of the primary ways of doing such was/is  through the building of causeways to support bridges to Hutchinson Island.

There have been and will be opportunities to improve this situation, most recently in 2004, in Martin County, when the Ernest Lyons Bridge located between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island,  was being rebuilt, this problem was addressed, but not corrected, as the public at the time was unwilling to give up its access to  the causeways. The causeways were lessened but not removed.

The causeways don’t just impact the water flow but also the lagoon’s wildlife. I remember my parents telling me stories in my youth about the fisherman of early Jensen noting that the causeways sticking out into the “river”confused the migratory  fish that had followed its shoreline as navigation to the inlets for thousands of years.

We will have an opportunity to rebuild the bridges before the next thousand years, my vote is remove the causeways and stop choking the already suffocating Indian River Lagoon.

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1985 SFWMD report notes   problems of causeways: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_watershed/portlet%20-%20coastal%20ecosystems/tab1806037/irlswim99/appendixb.pdf)

2014 Florida Today letter to the editor: (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/opinion/readers/letters/2014/05/19/letter-causeways-contribute-lagoon-pollution/9169601/)