Popular Hernando County park remains closed months after Hurricane Idalia damage

Three months after Hurricane Idalia brushed past Tampa Bay, a Hernando County park is still closed from storm damage. 

Alfred A McKethan Pine Island Park is the county's most popular park, located at the southern tip of Pine Island.

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Since August 30th, its gates have been padlocked. 

"It took the full brunt of the hurricane as it came up the coast so what we saw was really amazing. I've never seen it before," said Rob Talmage, administrator of Hernando County Parks and Recreation. "The water came rushing in, across the entire park, [and] as it did so, it scoured out all of the sand from under sidewalks and underneath all kinds of concrete structures, so we have collapsed sidewalks everywhere."

The park is known for its expansive beach, pavilions, playground, and Willy's Tropical Breeze Cafe. 

"All of the decks that were around the cafe itself were destroyed. We had to remove all of that. Light fixtures were damaged due to saltwater," he said, "Pretty much everything in that park was damaged in one form or another."

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Since then, Parks & Rec have removed 400 feet of damaged concrete sidewalk. 

"About 1,000 feet of a 3-foot high wooden fence had to be removed, it was thrown across the park," he said. 

Now as the county approaches the brink of the scope of the work bidding process, the owner of Willy's and its three employees are still on standby.

"I had maybe about a foot of water in there. I'm trying to do a little bit at a time because I have no income right now," Owner Willy Kochounian said.

Kochounian said the hiatus has taken a toll on his employees at the 25-year-old cafe. 

"It's going on three months now," he said. "I think it's about time we start thinking about opening the park."

Kochounian said the park closure has also taken a toll on residents and visitors. 

"A lot of people are upset. I get phone calls every day," he said. "I don't know what to tell them anymore."

Talmage said it's something the county is working diligently on. 

"I just ask to please be patient; we appreciate the patience now. We completely understand the frustration." 

The County plans to rebuild the park bigger and better than ever by replacing wooden boardwalks with concrete and making the park more ADA accessible.

Construction is tentatively slated to begin by January 1st.