MADEIRA BEACH — Political support for a $1.6-million state grant to save the city's fishing industry seems to have solidified with the City Commission expected to formally approve the program at its Tuesday meeting.
Following nearly an hour-long workshop discussion last week, the commission consensus for the program stood at 3-2, a narrow but sufficient majority.
"I am absolutely for a working waterfront. Lets get this over with," said Commissioner Terry Lister.
Commissioners Nancy Oakley and Carol Reynolds were quick to agree.
"There are going to be benefits to the city. We will have fresh seafood here all the time. The fishermen will be here and spending a lot of money in the city," said Reynolds.
When Mayor Pat Shontz repeatedly raised questions about possible negative repercussions, Oakley shot back: "What if, what if, what if."
Shontz said she has not yet made up her mind about the Stan Mayfield Working Waterfront Grant program.
Several weeks ago following a previous commission debate, she said she did not see what benefit the city's taxpayers would get from the proposed grant program.
One commissioner — Steve Kochick — is adamantly opposed to the fishing grant.
"This sets a precedent," Kochick said. "This is against everything I believe local government should be involved in."
What Kochick objects to is the city acting as the official recipient of the Florida Communities Trust grant, but having no real power to ensure that the grant's provisions are enacted.
Once the money is received, it would be immediately transferred to the commercial fish house business, Fishbusterz, which has said it would be used to pay down property taxes, debts and a mortgage.
In return for the state money, Fishbusterz is giving up forever any rights to develop the property.
What the state receives in exchange for its money is a guarantee that the 200-foot long property on the Intracoastal Waterway will forever be used to support the commercial fishing industry.
The city will not own the property but will have the responsibility to oversee the management of the grant program and report annually to the state that the property is, in fact, being used for commercial fishing or aquaculture.
"My concern is that if the property owner decides to abandon the project, it is not clear to me how we will go out and secure another business to operate (the required commercial fishing business). That could happen next year, 10 years from now or 50 years from now. And if we can't do it, the property will sit vacant in perpetuity," said City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr.
"If somebody starts selling cars on the site, the city will have to file a lawsuit to stop that," said City Attorney Mike Connolly, stressing that the requirements for the city's oversight continue would be unending.
Fishbusterz owner Eric Dickstein described some city officials' continuing objections as "incredibly unfair" and urged the commission to approve the grant program.
An official vote will occur at the commission's meeting Tuesday night.