Tag Archives: bridges

Ocean, Shore, and Bridges, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

scan0018 (4).jpg
A. Ruhnke, Stuart Nov. 12, 1956. (Courtesy of Sandra Thurlow)

I started the day looking for a quote of inspiration; this is what I found:

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

-Christopher Columbus

There have been some heavy set backs lately, for me and for others. After a year of total dedication and tremendous support, I lost a close race for Martin County commissioner. A race mostly inspired by our river…

Sometimes it may seem that we have fallen overboard and are surrounded by sharks, but we are not. We have just run aground… I believe because of our collective efforts since 2013 there is more wide-scale awareness for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon than in the combined previous 83 years. Progress is being made and will continue. There are always set backs as a goal is being achieved.

Just yesterday, I opened up “Florida Trend Magazine”and right there was the now famous aerial photograph of a beautiful North River Shores peninsula surrounded in fluorescent green algae. The title? Southeast “Bloom Blame, Florida researchers look for links between environmental factors and brain diseases.”


As you know, our plight, the plight of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon has become a state issue. A national issue.  The sad story of Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River is now mainstream, not just for a certain well read group, but for everyone.


Because we organized, we protested, we taught our youth, we went into schools, we went into churches and synagogues, we spoke at our dinner tables, we created organizations, we exploded on social media, we inspired candidates to run for the river, we inspired incumbents who had not spoken for the river to speak…

We had the courage to lose sight of the shore, this dirty shore that we stand on, and cross the ocean of the unknown. Along this journey, some have been persecuted, others are spreading the word…

This 1956 photo of the City of Stuart nestled in the arms of the St Lucie River was taken eight years before I was born. There were problem with the river then too, but only a few to speak for it, and hardly a way to spread the news…

Such a beautifully composed photograph, isn’t it? With the bridge leading to Stuart and the St Lucie Inlet on the horizon?

–Let’s have the courage to once again set sail…


 historic NOV. 12, 1956 STUART FL AERIAL - Version 5.jpg


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.


1985 SFWMD report notes   problems of causeways: (

Click to access 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/)

Hotels at the Tip of Sewall’s Point along the Indian River Lagoon?

This aerial photograph is from Sandra Henderson Thurlow's  book, "Sewall's Point, the History of a  Peninsular  Community on Florida's Treasure Coast." The photo was taken by Dillon-Reynolds Aerial Photography in 1968, ten years after the "bridges to the sea" were built for transportation and development.
This aerial photograph is from Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book, “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.” The photo was taken by Dillon-Reynolds Aerial Photography in 1968, ten years after the “bridges to the sea” were built to aid in  transportation and development of the area.

Imagine yourself a developer in Florida’s early days along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.  Land is cheap, people are coming, you can dredge and fill, you can create a marina, or bulkhead spoil islands filling and building on top of them, you can cut canals into the land creating more waterfront, and while you are smoking your cigar, you see the peninsula of Sewall’s Point. “Location! Magnificent! A perfect place for a series of hotels right at the tip of the lush pennisula surrounded by water…this would be, simply marvelous!” “Chi-$-Ching!”

Believe it or not, in 1957-1970  that scenario was very much the fate of the Sewall’s Point and the two islands off its tip. The 1957 zoning map, the year the town was incorporated, designated High Point, and the two islands at the southern tip of the peninsula as a “Business-2 Zoning District.”  This zoning designation permitted “hotels with not less than 25 rooms, clubs, multiple apartments, and municipal buildings.” (Historic legal documents referenced in Sewall’ s Point, Sandra  Henderson Thurlow).

Sewall's Point zoning map  1957.
Sewall’s Point zoning map 1957 shows the tip of High Point and two islands zoned for “business.” (Map, Sewall’s Point, Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

So why did not this developer’s dream come true?

“In 1970, a proposal to build multi-family dwellings on Sewall’s Point fell through when the members of the High Point Homeowners Association, working through the town government, defeated the the plan of Bessemer Properties.” (Thurlow)  This was a feat, in that Bessemer was controlled by the Phipps family with wealth from steel manufacturing; they were very powerful.

In 1970, after the confrontation, the town’s zoning map was changed to permit only R-1 residential zoning.

So, if you ever feel discouraged about the state of the Indian River Lagoon or other things,  think of the story of Sewall’s Point, and remember, a small group of determined people can certainly change their world!


Aerial of Sewall' Point, 1960 by Dillon-Reynolds Photography, showing new roads in Bessemer's High Point.
Aerial of Sewall’ Point, 1960 by Dillon-Reynolds Photography, showing new roads in Bessemer’s High Point sub-division.