To dredge or not to dredge.
It's a question 94 homeowners with property abutting Butterfly Lake in Shore Acres will soon be asked to answer.
Within the next two weeks, the city of St. Petersburg plans to mail ballots asking homeowners if they want to pay for the shallow lake to be deepened to 5 feet below the average low tide, thus allowing larger private boats to dock in the area. The petition requires 51 percent homeowner approval before it moves to a public hearing process required to confirm the special assessment that would pay for the project.
Observers say the moment is ripe for dredging the lake.
"Chances are, in their lifetime, it'll never be done again," said Bill Foster, a Shore Acres resident and former City Council member who worked on the issue while in office.
That once-in-a-lifetime moment Foster refers to comes courtesy of an ongoing dredge project nearby at the Channel Q canal, which connects Weedon Island to the 40th Avenue Bridge. Because the heavy equipment needed will be already in place for the Channel Q project, advocates for the Butterfly Lake project see an opportunity to piggyback onto it to reduce the cost of dredging the lake.
"Rather than bear the sole expense for equipment, if they can tack on to the Channel Q dredge, the equipment is already there and the cost is half of what it would be if the contractor had to mobilize just for them," Foster said.
Because Channel Q is designated as one of the city's 17 major arterial waterways, the city is obligated to maintain it at a navigable depth. But Butterfly Lake is not a vital waterway, and despite suggestions made on fliers circulated around the neighborhood advocating the project, the city has no plans to fund it, confirmed Tom Gibson, the city's engineering director.
Proponents say that dredging would increase property values and recreational opportunities by allowing better access to Tampa Bay for boaters.
"I'd love to get my shovel out and move it myself, but there are so many regulations involved that the homeowners can't do it," said Sara Crowley, a Butterfly Lake resident and proponent of the dredge project. Crowley, owns her own boat but says that low water levels make it difficult to navigate the lake. Last fall, she helped collect signatures from a majority of the lake's homeowners, thus helping put the issue to a vote.
But the measure carries a hefty price tag. Though the city is remaining tight-lipped about the cost, unofficial estimates range from a low of $4,050 to more than $6,000 per household. A similar dredge project on a small portion of Butterfly Lake was bid out with Channel Q after it passed a majority vote this month by 10 homeowners, who each will be assessed $7,620 for the work.
"I originally thought it would be a good idea, but the cost estimate is going up and up," said Patty Cook, president of the Shore Acres Civic Association. Cook owns a house on a part of Butterfly Lake that allows her to keep a large recreational boat, unlike residents on other parts of the lake.
Cook said she is unsure whether she now supports the proposal, and cited concerns that some older residents on fixed income might not be able to afford the expense.
According to Cook, some long-time residents recall an agreement made with the city to maintain Butterfly Lake during the 1950s when the lake was constructed. Gibson said that he was "not aware" of any
"If it's true, they need to find it," Foster said. "Somebody needs to do research in the archives."
City officials said that if the petition passes, they would allow residents to amortize their payments over 10 years with 8 percent interest. The dredge work would be carried out by the Punta Gorda-based Marine Contracting Group Inc., and could be completed as early as the end of the year, according to Gibson.