BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The old pass may soon become new again.
Bay County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to proceed with plans to reopen the East Pass after it closed up many years ago.
For years, many locals have been pushing the county to reopen the old East Pass into St. Andrews Bay.
“I’ve seen the effects of the old pass being open,” Panama City Dive Center owner Jason Barrow said. “You’re saying, does it flush the lagoon out? 100% it does.”
The old pass was originally the only entrance to the bay in the early 1900s.
After the government built the pass at St. Andrews State Park, the old East Pass slowly began filling in.
Storms have reopened it over the years, but not for long.
Twenty years ago, the county dredged but did not stabilize it with rocks. It filled in with a few months.
During Wednesday’s meeting, a consultant presented the results of a feasibility study.
Commissioners voted to accept the findings and move forward with the permitting process and environmental studies.
“Opening the old pass helps with the exchange of the fresh seawater in our bay system, keeping our bay alive,” Bay County Commissioner Bill Dozier said.
The location will be slightly different from the original east pass.
It will also be larger and deeper to keep it hydraulically stable.
Supporters said there are a number of good reasons for the project.
“That old pass, it helps the entire bay system from West Bay, North Bay, East Bay, all that,” Barrow said. “It just gives it so much more breathing room to get rid of all that freshwater, all that dirty water from the runoff. It’s not being soaked up anymore.”
“If you’ve got another pass, you’ve got another way,” Charter fisherman Bob Zales II said. “You’ve got a boat that’s got a problem, got a passenger on board, got a crew member or whatever. The Coast Guard has another access to get there quicker than going around the curve to get to it. There’s all types of benefits.”
It won’t be a quick project. Commissioners anticipate it will take up to 3 years to secure the permits.
County officials said they have not yet secured the money to perform the actual dredging work.