Tampa Port Authority Director and CEO Richard Wainio talks during the recently held Cockroach Bay dedication ceremony that completes a 20-year, 17-phase project.

After two decades of hard work,  the long-awaited Cockroach Bay restoration project is complete and open to the public.

The project is a cooperation of close to 30 state and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and more than 2,500 volunteers.

The picturesque surroundings of the preserve, tagged by some as an oasis for coastal seabirds and a wildlife sanctuary, welcomed attendees at the recently held dedication ceremony hosted by representatives of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Tampa Port  Authority and Hillsborough County.

Swiftmud Executive Director, Blake Guillory, explained that the 17-phase Cockroach Bay Restoration Project represents one of the largest, most complex coastal ecosystem restorations ever developed for Tampa Bay.

Guillory said that prior to the restoration, the 650-acre property located at 3709 Gulf City Rd. in Ruskin, just outside the Alafia River watershed boundary, suffered from a number of environmental problems, including habitat degradation, invasive plant infestation and poor water quality.

“Since the property was purchased by Hillsborough County in 1991, we are pleased to see that 500 acres of wetlands, uplands and coastal habitats have been restored,” Guillory said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra L. Murman, said she was pleased with the “transformation back to what it was all those years ago,” and said that the project is only the start of many more projects to come.

Swiftmud Governing Board Vice Chair, Hugh Gramling, said, “This project is the perfect example of team work.” 

Representing Hillsborough County, the project manager Brandt Henningsen explained that the $6.1 million undertaking, which does not include the $2.1 million  land acquisition, had plenty of challenges. These included 176 tons of garbage that were removed from the site during the course of the project and  hauling more than 500,000 cubic yards of recycled dredged material that was used to restore the site.

“The level of cooperation to achieve this is commendable,” Henningsen said.

Rehabilitated coastal birds were released into the restored ecosystem.

Cockroach Bay is open sunrise to sunset for hiking, photography or birding. Guided canoe tours are anticipated in the near future.

Visit www.watermatters.org.

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