TREASURE ISLAND — Fifteen years ago, a freighter and two barges collided in Tampa Bay, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil — resulting in millions of dollars in damage, including fouling Treasure Island's gulf-front beaches.
Seven years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the city $605,000 to mitigate that damage. The city spent $225,000 to build the Sunset Vista trailhead park. It still has to spend the remaining $380,000 to improve its beaches or possibly be forced to forfeit the grant.
Plans to spend the money to extend the mile-long Beach Trail were shelved several years ago, partly because of the $3.8-million price tag and partly from opposition of residents concerned about potential environmental damage.
Now, the city is again considering what it should do with the balance of the oil spill grant.
Sometime in June, the commission plans to take a field trip, walking up and down the Beach Trail to decide what kinds of improvements are most needed.
"The commission needs to determine if it wants to proceed with the recommended improvements," said City Manager Reid Silverboard.
In 2005 the city paid $100,000 to landscape architect Phil Graham for a plan to upgrade the 12-foot concrete walkway between hotels and condominiums along the central portion of the city's beach.
Graham estimated the cost to refurbish just the existing Beach Trail at $1.9-million.
The commission approved a conceptual plan that called for creating a winding walkway with colored pavers, activity areas for grilling, exercising and shuffleboard, and benches. A flat-topped concrete wall designed to keep sand off the walkway would be replaced with a decorative barrier with turtle-safe lighting and a tilted top to discourage visitors from leaving drinks and debris on the wall.
At one time, the city envisioned adding Penny for Pinellas funds to the project, but first had to get approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use the oil spill grant.
For the past year and a half, the city and NOAA have discussed the plan. NOAA accepted some parts and rejected others. Specifically, any work to renovate or replace the existing trail cannot be performed with NOAA money.
Instead, NOAA says the city can use the money for street-side icons, signs and lighting at beach access points; additional bike racks; educational signs relating to beach, dune and marine habitats; new concrete walkways and replacement of existing walkways only where they are currently unsafe; and specialty pavement at street-side icons.
Items not eligible for funding include replacement of existing walkways and repair or enhancement to the existing Beach Trail, including additional lighting.
Now, NOAA wants the city to submit a detailed work plan with specific costs, delineating what would be paid with NOAA funds and what would be covered by city funds.
"Obviously we are not in position to fund something like this ($1.9-million original plan) at this time," said Silverboard. "What the community needs to decide is what is it we want to do out there."