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Port Richey council questions deal for dredge spoils site

PORT RICHEY — The city's chief negotiator for a crucial part of the dredge told the council Tuesday night that he had good news.

A site to hold the spoils from the city's channels was on the market and, after much back and forth with its bank owners, selling for $195,000.

It was a good deal, he said, and one the city would be wise to grab. But first, the council members had a question.

"I'm curious," council member Phil Abts said. "When were you hired by the city?"

The negotiator, Charlie Attardo, was a new face in council chambers. Though Attardo said he has served as a city broker since August, council members didn't know he was working for them. City Manager Ellen Posivach said she brought in Attardo, a now retired economic development director she worked with during her time in Tarpon Springs, because his experience could help seal the deal on the former Moonlight Bay Mobile Home Park.

Though the council agreed the land was a good fit, some questioned Attardo's assessment. They corrected him that the land was zoned commercial, not agricultural, as he had misread from property records. Abts asked why the land's value wasn't compared to anywhere else. Council member Bill Colombo asked why the city would pay $20,000 more than the land's taxable value.

Phyllis Grae, a former council member, even asked about Attardo's pay — $60 an hour, totaling what he said was about $1,000 of work.

Though some members hoped to push forward with Attardo's suggested offer, the council voted to first get a commercial appraisal of the 1.7 acres just east of the U.S. 19 bridge. If the price is right, the city will use the land to dry and sell the muck, sand and rock dredged from the canal floor. Dredge engineer Joe Wagner suggested the site in recent months because it opens into the Pithlachascotee River and is used now only as an "open-air homeless shelter."

The purchase, members said, would mark a big step in a decade-long dredging effort mired in political mud. Yet, as with lingering arguments over the dredge's estimated $9 million price tag, not everyone could agree on how to pay for the spoils site.

Financing the land over 10 years on a 4 percent interest rate would leave a smaller footprint on the short-term budget, though Mayor Richard Rober suggested the city should "bite the bullet" and pay cash up front.

Members also couldn't agree on the time line. Abts said there was no rush to push the deal through without waiting for an expert's appraisal, while council member Perry Bean said the city's behind-the-scenes effort was more than enough for what looked to be a steal for the city.

"The price is favorable, the terms are favorable, the time is favorable," Bean said. "We can't negotiate real estate deals in this room, at these microphones."

That's part of the reason, Posivach said, for seeking Attardo's help. Though not a real estate agent, he could gauge a fair price without giving an air of desperation.

"We have to have someone not from the city soliciting these people," City Attorney Michael Brannigan said. "As soon as the city shows interest, the price goes up."

Dredgers have yet to dig the first bit of sediment from the city's 30 waterways, and the process of permitting is still under way. Yet Rober said the site at 5544 River Gulf Road, between Weber Lane and Grand Boulevard, could still be a valuable city addition — dredge or no dredge — as a waterfront park, parking lot or boat ramp.

The possibility of buying a spoils site without any spoils to dry or sell didn't draw much concern during Tuesday's five-hour meeting.

"We analyze things to the point of paralysis," former council member Dale Massad said. "If history has taught us anything in this dredge it's that if you hesitate, you lose."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Sea grass in canals latest obstacle to dredging

The city has a new obstacle in its long-delayed drive to the dredge: sea grass.

The floors of five city canals are lined with the protected plants, hampering the city's efforts to get dredging permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection signed permits for all 30 canals, but the Corps has told dredge engineer Joe Wagner that it's "not close to permitting those channels whatsoever."

Wagner estimated that mitigating the grasses would cost about $600,000, bringing those five channels' total dredge costs up to about $2.5 million. The city would also be on the hook for about $88,000 in new mapping, he told the council, though council members Bill Colombo and Phil Abts and Mayor Richard Rober voted down Wagner's initial request.

The five unpermitted canals sit outside Millers Bayou, where the first phase of dredging would begin. Council members said they would push forward with other aspects of the dredge, such as defining a special taxing district to fund it.

Abts questioned whether paying for the expensive extra work on the unpermitted canals made financial sense. Council member Perry Bean responded that the dredge should continue in spite of the cost, with "no canal left behind."

"This dredge is not just about navigation," Bean said. "It's key to this city's survival."

Port Richey council questions deal for dredge spoils site 04/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 10:22pm]
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