PORT RICHEY — An embattled plan to dredge the city's canals has gotten a financial shot in the arm from council members looking to provide a clearer picture of costs to affected property owners.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to spend $31,867 to continue the permitting process on the dredging project, with the goal of finalizing plans before an Aug. 17 town hall meeting with affected property owners.
"It demonstrates a conviction over it," Mayor Richard Rober said of providing the funding to move forward.
The city has spent $1 million over 10 years on planning for the dredging of the city's 25 canals that are choked with sediment, at times making them impassable by boat.
But without funding to do the actual dredging, officials planned to hold a vote to see if affected property owners would be willing to foot the bill through a special tax assessment.
Two months ago, however, the council pulled the plug on spending $53,000 for an extensive survey and balloting process that would have done just that, believing a tax increase would be shot down.
The council reversed course somewhat on Tuesday, approving the $31,867 to complete the plans. After gauging residents' support, the council can decide whether to spend additional money to determine residents' costs and conduct the balloting.
The bulk of the funding approved Tuesday will go toward completing surveys on channels with environmentally sensitive sea grasses in order to seek state permits. The council also approved $1,211 for the project's engineer to conduct a study that would determine a cost estimate for property owners.
Several years ago, Joe Wagner of Taylor Engineering said a study estimated the cost of the project at around $10 million. But after this week's hearing, Wagner said he believes that may have gone down.
The study will also provide a clearer picture of exactly how many property owners would be affected by the dredging. One study shows 140 lots would be affected by the bulk of the dredging, but that has been a source of debate.
Wagner said after the hearing that the study would not be exact, but the cost estimate would likely be within 20 percent of actual costs. He said the truest calculations could only be done by the $53,000 legal review and balloting process the council has not yet approved.