TARPON SPRINGS — The fight over the Sponge Docks is far from over. In fact, it's ramping up.
Critics continue to blast the city's $1.3 million plan to beautify and enhance the well-known tourist district. They're passing around petitions and packing meetings at City Hall. They intend to keep it up all spring.
Most importantly: They're starting to make Tarpon Springs city commissioners have second thoughts about the project. This is mainly because critics are asserting that federal authorities won't allow the city to install a planned boardwalk or transient boat docks because they would become navigation hazards on the Anclote River.
Mary Klimis Coburn, an attorney who represents several Sponge Docks business and property owners, calls the city's plans ill-informed.
She says that sponge divers park their boats two abreast on the river's south side, and shrimpers park their boats three abreast on the river's north side, leaving a relatively narrow channel in between. She contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't allow an 8-foot-wide boardwalk on the water's edge because that would make it too difficult for boats to get through. It could also interfere with dredging the river, she says.
"The city of Tarpon Springs has put forth an unpermittable plan," Coburn said.
City Manager Mark LeCouris scoffs at this. Tarpon staffers believe the boardwalk wouldn't be a problem. He said the city has seen no evidence to indicate otherwise.
"Why would we do something to block up the river? It doesn't make sense," he said. "Our people have said there's enough room. But if we can't get it permitted, there will be no wooden dock. That money will go toward something else."
Tarpon Springs commissioners haven't yet voted to go through with the project. That could happen in May, after construction bids for the work come in.
Commissioners have repeatedly expressed support for the plan, which is intended to spruce up the Sponge Docks and make them more inviting for tourists. And earlier this month, a candidate who publicly supported the plan was elected to the commission by a wide margin.
But Commissioners Townsend Tarapani and David Banther said Wednesday and Thursday that the city shouldn't proceed until questions about the river have been addressed.
This is a shift in gears, because most critics have been voicing a different complaint — that the plans look too modern for the historic district.
Staff writer Nova Beall contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.