GULFPORT — The city's plan to install the county's first mooring field in Boca Ciega Bay has been met with various levels of resistance from the start.
Shot down by the City Council in 2005, the mooring field idea was later revived and approved. It has been in the design and permitting phase for the past year and will go before the County Commission for a public hearing on Aug. 5.
The impending hearing has spawned an online petition drive opposing the plan. Organizers hope the signatures will help sway county commissioners and keep the Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection from permitting the project.
"This is an overreaction to the problem of derelict boats to ask for 100 moorings right off our beach," said Jennifer Salmon, a Gulfport resident who started the petition drive.
The field was initially proposed to discourage derelict vessels, but was later touted as a cheap solution to the county's lack of boat slips that could give an economic boost to the city's waterfront district.
While the construction permit would allow 100 moorings — fixed anchors supported by a buoy or mooring ball at the water's surface — the city has only 50 budgeted.
About $114,000 would be drawn from the city's marina fund this year or next to complete the project.
Combined with the cost of environmental studies and engineering, the cost would be about $241,000.
If the initial 50 were to be occupied immediately, the second phase could be built at an additional cost.
Detractors, including Salmon, have been critical of the cost during lean economic times, but if the city's estimations are correct, the mooring field will generate revenue.
Costing about $55,000 a year to operate and generating about $78,000, city officials expect to see a return within 10 years.
"If somebody is making the argument that this is going to be a burden on the city financially, I don't see that," City Manager Thomas Brobeil said.
The mooring field also would generate about $250,000 for Gulfport's waterfront district and $1.7-million for the surrounding area, according to estimates in the city's Harbor Management Plan.
The petition also cites environmental and aesthetic concerns, and suggests that using the bay for boat storage will impede navigation for smaller boats.
"Fuel emissions from 100 vessels would make the bay unswimmable for Gulfport citizens and visitors," the petition states.
The county's Environmental Management Department doesn't share the same concerns. The staff will recommend that the board approve the permit, environmental project manager Dave Walker said.
Lack of any protected grasses in the project area, plans for monitoring and a sewage pump-out boat were considered in the staff's decision.
"It's probably one of the better locations in the county for something like this," Walker said.
Nick Johnson can be reached at 893-8361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.