TREASURE ISLAND — Nearly 17 years after an oil spill affected Pinellas County beaches and estuaries, the city has yet to spend $380,000 remaining from a $605,000 mitigation grant awarded in 2001.
That may soon change if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approves the city's latest plan to build crosswalks on Gulf Boulevard at four existing beach access walkways.
Those access points also will be upgraded with bicycle racks, educational signs, trash receptacles and turtle-safe lighting.
If the project is approved from NOAA and permitted by the state Department of Transportation, the project should be completed by December, according to Public Works director Jim Murphy.
The city used $255,000 of the grant to develop Sunset Vista Park at the entrance to Sunset Beach.
Originally, it planned to use the remaining $380,000 to extend the city's central beach trail both south to Sunset Vista Park and north to Johns Pass.
That plan was abandoned when the price tag came in at nearly $2 million and property owners on the northern section objected to the project taking part of their beach.
Murphy said he has been working closely with NOAA officials in the latest crosswalk plan. NOAA, which administers the $8 million court settlement from the August 1993 oil spill caused by the collision of a freighter and two barges in the mouth of Tampa Bay.
More than 300,000 gallons of heavy oil and 33,000 of jet fuel spilled into the bay. Oil eventually spread onto about 13 miles of Pinellas County beaches.
Most of the money was allocated by NOAA for revitalizing shorelines and natural resources affected by the oil spill.
Beach cities affected by the 1993 oil spill were awarded $2.5 million to be used primarily to improve public beach access.
Among the projects approved were a nature preserve boardwalk in Indian Rocks Beach, dune crossovers in a number of cities, the Causeway Shoreline Restoration Park in Madeira Beach, a boardwalk and pier at St. Petersburg's Park Street Boat Ramp.
St. Pete Beach used its $652,500 grant on a number of projects, include a fishing pier at Blind Pass, a boardwalk at Upham Beach, and a pier, boardwalk and boat ramp in Pass-a-Grille.
Treasure Island now plans to build five crosswalks — four will be funded by NOAA and one will be paid for by the city.
"We felt an important part of providing access to the beach was providing safe pedestrian access across Gulf Boulevard," said Murphy.
The proposed crosswalks will be at 126th Avenue, halfway between 123rd and 122nd avenues, 119th Avenue, and 103rd Avenue.
"The money should have all been spent years ago," said City Manager Reid Silverboard. "We are probably the last city with projects yet to complete."