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Clearwater to light up jetty for boaters' safety

CLEARWATER — Prodded by criticism over potential hazards, the City Council has decided to put navigational warning lights on the Clearwater Pass jetty.

The decision comes after an Oct. 2 collision where a boat crashed into a dark jetty at St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport, killing a 17-year-old girl.

And it comes nearly three years after Clearwater's Marine Advisory Board unanimously recommended lighting the Clearwater Pass jetty.

An article Sunday in the Clearwater Times reported that board members were criticizing the city for ignoring their recommendation all this time.

At their meeting Thursday night, City Council members decided to spend roughly $15,000 to put a series of yellow flashing lights on the jetty to warn boaters to steer clear of it.

While they were at it, they also decided to remove another boating hazard — an 85,000-pound block of concrete that's submerged just below the surface of Clearwater Harbor off the Seminole Boat Ramp.

It is what's left of the base of a turnstile that was in the middle of the Seminole Bridge, which was built in 1917. The rickety wooden bridge, which is long gone, used to carry beachgoers in Model T's across Clearwater Harbor. Its turnstile rotated part of the bridge to allow boats to pass, and the device's concrete base can still be seen at very low tides.

"It has been struck several times, at least four to my knowledge. It is an area of concern," city harbormaster Bill Morris told the City Council on Thursday night.

"I think the turnstile is more dangerous than the jetty," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.

Tom Horn, a marine construction contractor who used to be chairman of the city's Marine Advisory Board, told the council that it would probably cost $20,000 to $30,000 to break the huge concrete block into pieces, barge it away and dispose of it.

Horn estimated that installing five heavy-duty flashing lights along the jetty would cost about $3,000 per light, and would involve hammering pilings into the sea floor.

Council members voted to do both tasks and put the jobs out for bid. They'll use city reserve funds to pay for it.

The jetty extends west from Sand Key Park and juts about 7 feet above the water. Clearwater built it in 1975 to stop beach erosion.

Boaters are supposed to stay in the marked channel north of the jetty, which has its own lights. But the jetty has been the scene of several boat crashes, at least one of them fatal. The last crash was in 2006.

Morris, the harbormaster, said the city will have to get a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard for the new warning lights.

Responding to the council's questions, City Attorney Pam Akin said that, once the new signal is installed, Clearwater could be liable if a crash occurred at night and the flashing lights weren't on at the time.

"We'll have to maintain it," Akin said. "We can't let the lights burn out."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

MORE CITY NEWS

City Council renews faith in its top two employees

Despite some high-profile mistakes made by Clearwater's government over the past year, the City Council gave high marks to the city's top two employees in annual reviews.

Council members praised City Manager Bill Horne and City Attorney Pam Akin for the quality of their leadership during what has been a tough year for the city. But they also referred to "self-inflicted wounds" that the city has endured.

One was losing a First Amendment court case over a tackle shop's fish mural. Another was a now-canceled plan to remove several publicly displayed American flags due to budget cuts. A third involved letting a Sand Key strip mall's zoning lapse, allowing its new owners to someday replace it.

Despite that, council members made clear that they fully support Horne and Akin for their professionalism, integrity and dedication.

Due to budget constraints, neither will get a salary increase.

Clearwater to light up jetty for boaters' safety 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 9:08pm]

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