CLEARWATER — The city likely will pay up to $1 million to dredge a channel from the Clearwater Beach Marina to Clearwater Pass, pumping up to 70,000 cubic yards of sand off the sea floor.
Frequented as a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico, the channel hugs the peninsulas of the beach's east coast and rounds Clearwater Point into the pass, said city harbormaster Bill Morris.
But the channel has shallowed over the years from the buildup of sand, swept in by tides below the Sand Key Bridge. Boaters braving the channel have dinged propellers, dragged keels and run aground. In some spots, the water is only 5 feet deep.
"If we don't do the dredging, and basically reopen up that channel, it's going to close," Morris said.
Some boaters opt to skip the shortcut, instead navigating southeast along the Clearwater Memorial Causeway and back west to the pass, giving the shoals of Clearwater Point a wide berth.
But the longer route can be costly for fuel, especially for charter operators who routinely travel the harbor.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local governments are responsible for the federal channel, but the city will pay the full cost. A Corps chief told Clearwater that the dredging project would only find federal funding from congressional earmarks, now largely forbidden.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said the City Council was hesitant to approve the dredging, which will lower city reserves to $19 million. But if the project is not finished by January, its state permit will expire.
The City Council is expected to approve the project on its consent agenda tonight. The work is projected to cost $750,000, but the Corps has asked the city to commit up to $1 million.The bulk of the cost, more than a half million dollars, will pay for the Corps' dredging vessel, the Currituck. A day's work for the Currituck, pumping about 3,000 cubic yards of sand, costs $22,000.
Moving the boat, paying for labor and monitoring for sediment effects and endangered species will cost $220,000.
The work will begin around September, after the Currituck finishes a dredge of Longboat Pass.
The muck will be dumped a couple hundred yards northwest of Pier 60.
The city last dredged the pass in 2002. Similar efforts to dredge Dunedin Pass, the closed channel between Clearwater Beach and Caladesi Island, have failed due to opposition from the Corps and environmental groups.
Contact Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.