Posted on December 8, 2020
TARPON SPRINGS — Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently came to Tarpon Springs to provide an update on the Anclote River Dredge Project, a multimillion-dollar, multiphased project designed to restore the river to its natural depths following years of sediment buildup.
During the Nov. 17 Board of Commissioners meeting, Senior Project Manager Shelley Trulock explained the project is in limbo after no contracts were awarded during the bidding process.
“I wish I was telling you that we were mobilized, dredging started and things are going great,” Trulock said. “Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened. But we’ll get there, so don’t worry.”
Trulock said after advertising the contract they had three companies bid, but the lowest one withdrew its bid and the other two “were 25% higher than what the government estimate was.”
She said after failing to find additional funding they “had to punt and start all over again.”
Trulock explained the project, which consists of constructing a spoil site to hold the dredged materials and then dredging the river, was pretty straightforward, so they elected to “tighten up” the plans and specifications for the project to ensure potential bidders understand the parameters moving forward.
“Basically, we just want to make sure we tell the story a little more adequately,” she said, “and just make sure that we try to address their concerns up front.”
Trulock noted they have discussed switching to a request for proposal model, which would add a few weeks to the bidding process. She gave a tentative timetable for the work, with the plan calling for the project to be put out for bid again in January, receiving the bids in mid-February and award the winning bidder in mid-April.
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure at the end of the day that we come up with a project we can build successfully for Tarpon Springs,” she said.
The news was not a surprise but was still met with disappointment from commissioners and residents.
“This is something that’s obviously super important to the residents and the businesses here in Tarpon Springs,” Vice-Mayor Jacob Karr said. “So, wherever you go if you could relate that Tarpon Springs relies on this heavily to make sure north county economics are doing well with a working waterfront.”
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani noted the news means “we’re probably a year out from dredging the river,” a statement Trulock confirmed.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get somebody to bite on the first go-round but that’s nobody’s fault, so hopefully you have better luck,” he said, adding, “if there’s anything we can do to help facilitate this process, let us know.”
During the public comments, several residents and business owners spoke about the importance of the dredge project to the community and the county.
“It’s been 20-plus years since this river’s been dredged and it hasn’t been that long ago that we had 15 shrimp boats. We are now down to one,” Rusty Bellies restaurant owner Julie Russell said. “It is so important to our community, not only to use as a fishing community but for tourism. We need this help.”
Via phone, former city commissioner Peter Dalacos said the project “requires immediate attention.
“This project has been going on for years,” he said. “Why can’t you find the money for this project? This has been going on too long. We desperately need to support our industry … because the people in Tarpon Springs depend on the waterfront.”
Mayor Chris Alahouzos later shared his thoughts on the latest development, or non-development, with the dredge project.
“They didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know because we stay in touch with them constantly,” he said. “But it was nice they came here to explain the situation to us and the residents because they got to hear how important this project is to Tarpon Springs and Pinellas County.
Asked if he felt the project would get back on track following the next round of bids, the mayor remained hopeful.
“Talking to the engineer and project manager makes me feel that the way we’re doing it is going to be OK, and by having all the data it’s going to make it easier for contractors to bid properly,” Alahouzos said. “But I think we made it clear how important this project is. So everybody knows how big it is for us.”