GULFPORT — Buried deep in the city's 2012 fiscal budget is a line item appropriating $30,000 for a mooring field in Boca Ciega Bay.
That doesn't mean the city is going to spend that money; it just means that it's there if it's needed — just as funds have been every year since 2007 when Gulfport became the first community in Pinellas County to approve a proposal to build a city-managed, user-funded mooring field as part of the city's Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan.
Plans for the mooring field — in which permanent anchors attached to buoys are installed in the sea bottom — came after years of discussing what to do about rundown, derelict boats listing in the bay.
But, it can't be built without permits and the city still does not have them after starting and stopping the process several times based on the will of those seated on City Council at the time.
The permitting process is under way, again.
The city has been granted a Pinellas County permit, but it still needs a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection authorizing it to use state-owned submerged lands to construct and operate a public mooring field with 25 permanently anchored mooring buoys, said City Manager Jim O'Reilly.
The city applied for the permit, and it was recently returned with a request for additional information, O'Reilly said. The city has 90 days to respond and then the agency has 90 days to make a ruling. That means any work on a mooring field is at least six months away.
While poor economic conditions have impacted the number of boats on area waterways, a mooring field is still seen as a valuable and environmentally friendly way of eliminating unregulated anchoring and attracting more boaters to downtown.
Will it ever be built?
"It has some intelligence to it, but you have to look at all the components required," Mayor Mike Yakes said.
Those components include providing laundry facilities and restrooms for the boaters — as well as taking into consideration how much business it would take from the city's marina that is presently at 75 percent capacity, O'Reilly said.
As the city awaits the permits, Yakes said he plans to have a council workshop on another boating issue — allowing live-aboards at the city's marina.