PORT RICHEY — The cost estimates for dredging the city's canals have been slashed in half, but that may not be enough to move the protracted project forward.
Only three dozen people attended a town hall meeting Wednesday night in which the City Council hoped to gauge public support for the dredging plan.
Council members have long said it would take a special tax assessment to pay for dredging the 24 canals, but they have stopped short of spending $29,000 on a study to determine how much each affected property owner would pay — a necessary step to put the proposal on the ballot. They didn't want to spend that money unless there was a strong indication that residents supported moving forward.
With more than 500 plots and boat slips possibly affected by the dredging, council member Bill Colombo said he had hoped for City Hall to be packed.
The turnout left Colombo skeptical about spending the money to bring the dredging assessment to the ballot.
"I'm not sure yet," he said.
Still, council member Terry Rowe asked for a show of hands from anyone in opposition. None went up.
"Wow. That surprises me. That helps. That helps a lot," Rowe said.
The best news for dredging proponents came from the city's dredging consultant, Joe Wagner of Taylor Engineering. The cost estimates for the project had plummeted from $10 million to between $4.3 million and $4.8 million, thanks to drastically reduced sea grass mitigation costs.
Council member Steve O'Neill noted that the canals in Port Richey had not been dredged since the 1950s.
"If not now, when?" he asked. "Or do we want our kids to do that, too?"
Mayor Richard Rober was the only member of the council who promised to endorse spending for the study that would move the project forward.
"I can assure you my answer is going to be yes," Rober told the crowd.
As the City Council agreed to again discuss funding the study in the coming weeks, some in the crowd of supporters remained skeptical they would see action anytime soon.
"I just hope you get it done before I'm dead," 72-year-old Alfred Grosskurth joked. "I have a life expectancy, you know."
Gaspard Delaaf, who has a home on a channel off Carolyn Drive, also offered support for the project, but said he's glad he's only 47 years old, because it could be years before anything happens.
"Who knows? We might get lucky," he said.