TAMPA — Ed Turanchik told Hillsborough County commissioners in February that his clients had examined 14 potential spots for their proposed high-speed ferry's terminal. Only one worked: the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve near Gibsonton.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Sandy Murman made a surprise move that Turanchik said could jeopardize the ferry: She asked county staff to start looking for a different spot.
"I am very optimistic about this project … " Murman said, "but the dam has broke and people are expressing concerns. . . . If there is a huge citizen uprising over this location, it's not something that this commission will stomach."
In the past few weeks, environmental advocates and Gibsonton residents have criticized the use of a nature preserve for a ferry terminal and parking lot.
Turanchik, a lawyer and former commissioner who represents the private companies that would operate the ferry, was not at the commission meeting. Any search is a waste of time, he said.
"We've been through painstaking analysis . . . county staff can do whatever it wants, but that's the only site that works," he said.
The 134-acre Schultz preserve is partly owned by a Hillsborough land-preservation program, and more than $3 million in public money has been spent buying and restoring the land. Turanchik has proposed swapping nearby land owned by his clients with the preserve land needed for the terminal.
That did not placate officials with Audubon Florida.
"It would have been a very destructive project that would have wasted millions of public dollars invested in that site," said Charles Lee, Audubon Florida director of advocacy.
The ferry would provide commuter service for southern Hillsborough residents who work at MacDill Air Force Base and could add service linking Tampa to St. Petersburg. The project needs more than $20 million in startup funding, most of which would be covered by the county under Turanchik's plan.
In February, commissioners approved spending $125,000 on a feasibility study. In June, the project won a $4.8 million federal grant.
"We would hate to see Tampa Bay lose this incredible opportunity . . . just because some people are being silly," Turanchik said.
Also Wednesday, commissioners asked Hillsborough's internal auditor to review the county's Pet Resources Division, which used to be called the Animal Services Department.
Commissioner Ken Hagan asked for the audit and said he hopes it vindicates new county shelter chief Scott Trebatoski, who has drawn praise from commissioners but has riled some local animal advocates.
"I really believe having an independent audit will validate the improvements that have been made," Hagan said.
Under Trebatoski, the county shelter's live-release rate — the percentage of animals that leave alive — has jumped to 72 percent, up from 49 percent last year. Some local animal rescue groups have questioned the accuracy of those figures.
Trebatoski replaced Ian Hallett, who was moved to another county department last December after months of withering criticism from animal advocates.
Trebatoski told commissioners he welcomed the audit and promised continued improvements.
"We're really undergoing a cultural shift as well as a philosophical shift," Trebatoski said. "I think we've turned that corner."
Contact Will Hobson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. Follow @TheWillHobson.