Unique Public/Private Project Restores Critical Habitat Along Newman Branch Creek

Mat Bonar helps his daughter, Keira, 5, plant native Florida marsh grass near Newman Branch Creek in April.

In Apollo Beach, an ecosystem is being restored. The area is known as Newman Branch Creek. This restoration project is made possible thanks to a unique private/public partnership between Tampa Electric (TECO) and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program.

The area being restored is a total of 24 acres. The restoration project was planned and completed in two phases (12 acres each) with phase one being completed in 2007 and phase two in June of 2012.

TECO bought the land in the 1980s. The former owner had converted a mangrove forest and salt marsh on the land to a fish farm. This conversion interrupted tidal flow and, with the invasion of non-native species, destroyed the natural habitat.

In 2006, the restoration project began with clearing of the non-native plants. Over the last six years, the area has been slowly restored. In April, a dedication ceremony was held at 725 Elsberry Rd. in Apollo Beach. Approximately 160 TECO employees and their families planted nearly 8,000 native plants and grasses (smooth cord grass, saltmeadow grass, seaside paspalum and black needle rush).

According to Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson for Tampa Electric, “In just a few months, this area will look completely different, as the grasses and plants get established.” Jacobs further explained, “The area is under a conservation easement. The project will restore fish habitat which will help improve their population. While the area is not open to the public, anyone who fishes in Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico can ultimately benefit from this project because it will help to improve the fish population.”

This is the first time that SWFWMD worked with a private landowner to conduct habitat restoration. According to Jacobs, “The project reflects the scarcity of coastline available for restoration and a growing interest in public-private collaboration to save valuable fish habitat.”

Jacobs said, “At TECO Energy, we are proud of our environmental stewardship, and this project is another example of how seriously we take that commitment.”

For more information on this project and TECO’s overall commitment to the environment, please visit www.tampaelectric.com/environmental/stewardship/restoration.