ST. PETERSBURG — The Southwest Florida Water Management District announced Thursday that it has approved the city's request for a permit to demolish the shuttered inverted pyramid Pier and build the Lens, its $50 million replacement.
The Swiftmud permit is the first of three regulatory hurdles the city must clear before proceeding with the project. Permits from Pinellas County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are also required.
How much any of these permits matter will become clearer after Aug. 27, when residents vote on whether the city should cancel its contract to build the Lens.
Mayor Bill Foster, who had vowed that the old Pier would be demolished, recently left the door open for it to be saved. He said a new alliance he created to untangle the Pier problem can consider saving the existing one.
Foster also questioned whether the city would be able to get approvals to demolish the 1973 Pier before the election.
"It's not unexpected," Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist and office manager for the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, said of Swiftmud's permit approval.
"What's very fortunate for me is that we have the Army Corps, which is much different from Swiftmud and is not so easy to get a permit from," said Margeson, who is running for the District 2 council seat against incumbent Jim Kennedy.
The city's application for a permit from Pinellas County ran into problems in April, when officials said the Lens did not meet requirements of the county's water and navigation code. St. Petersburg responded that the county was working with outdated figures and said it would provide new information. That has not yet happened.
"We are just continuing to compile information," Mike Connors, the city's Public Works administrator, said Thursday. The city also expects to provide additional material to the Army Corps within 30 days.
Meanwhile, there's an avenue to contest Swiftmud's decision, but Thomas W. Reese, a lawyer specializing in environmental and land use issues who represents Bud Risser, a Concerned Citizens leader, said he has not discussed that with his client.
"The state law is much weaker than the federal law, and, really, the Army Corps is the key permit," he said. "I imagine the election is going to resolve this."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.