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Design Money for Anclote Dredging, Likely Years Away, Eyed

Posted on May 12, 2016

By Eric Horchy, The SuncoastNews

The Anclote River won’t be dredged for a number of years, but the city received an update last week on groundwork being laid to ensure the project comes to fruition.

Public Services Program Manager Bob Robertson and Economic Development Manager Karen Lemmons briefed the Tarpon Springs Board of City Commissioners during last Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The matter at hand involves deepening the navigational seaway for vessels entering and exiting the Anclote River Federal Channel. Dredging last occurred in 1998, and, according to Robertson, the channel requires such maintenance every 20-25 years.

The project is a multipronged endeavor involving a number of entities, including the city, county, state and federal governments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Robertson was optimistic during last week’s commission briefing that the dredging can take place within the 20-25 year maintenance schedule considering the work being done to progress the process.

Executing the dredge will consist of two phases — design and permitting — and the river channel restoration work.

Phase One has already begun, Robertson said, with a letter submitted to the Corps of Engineers. Now the project needs to secure federal funding to assist with the $300,000 design and permitting process. The city is working with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, among others, to assist in that procurement.

Once congressional appropriations are attained, the work of completing environmental impact studies, locating a spoil site for what’s dug up and planning the entire project is estimated to take 18 months.

Phase Two is the actual channel restoration work, but it also begins with securing $4 million worth of funding.

Optimistically, Phase One begins next February, followed by the start of dredging in February 2020, Robertson said. But that timetable could be pushed back by a year, he added.

Tarpon Springs’ push to get the Anclote River Federal Channel dredged is in competition with other, much-larger dredging projects, like those in the cities of Tampa and Jacksonville.

“What that means is that our project has a lower priority to the Army Corps of Engineers,” Robertson said. “Some of the larger projects have a larger commercial value. But that doesn’t mean our project isn’t important.”

According to an April 21 letter from the Corps of Engineers in response to an inquiry from Bilirakis, the delayed schedule is anticipated.

“I regret to inform you that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) did not receive allocated funding to conduct maintenance on the Anclote River in the Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the Corps or the Fiscal Year 2016 Corps Work Plan; thus the Corps can take no action at this time.”

A copy of that letter was attached to the April meeting agenda of the newly formed Tarpon Springs Marine Commerce Committee. The committee, consisting of seven residents, is providing insight into how the needed dredge affects local business.

“They’re the ones that know about the river,” said Lemmons, the city’s liaison to the committee. “The members of the committee either have boats on it or are doing fishing or shrimping. They have those stories that can be told to the people they need to be told to as to why this is important. Numbers are important, but it’s also helpful to tell them what’s happening in terms of a boat owner who can’t get the shrimp boats in.”

Source: The SunCoast News

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