Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

What a difference a dredge makes for Hernando Beach

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It's no Sunshine Skyway bridge, no Gateway Arch, no Space Needle.

Even adjusted for scale — we're talking about a fairly small community, after all — the newly dredged Hernando Beach boat channel can't be considered a landmark.

It's not on land, for one thing, and the dredging hasn't left much of a mark. In fact, other than navigational markers and a slight variation in the water's shade — a darker gray-green in the deepest parts — the channel's not even visible.

Considering the epic time span (17 years), the large sum of money spent (roughly $14 million, with a more complete accounting on the way), and the Mount Rushmore of accumulated anxiety and finger-pointing, perhaps you were expecting something a little more magnificent, something more impressive than a 3-mile-long, 60-foot-wide, 6-foot-deep ditch.

On the bright side, the ditch — which an independent surveyor ruled to be "substantially complete" at the end of last month — is already proving very useful.

Michael Senker — no, not Sinker, darn it — owner of Thunder Party Boat Inc. in Hernando Beach, said he doesn't have to worry anymore about getting stranded with a load of clients during low tide; he no longer has to reschedule trips to make sure his main boat, which draws 3 feet, has enough water to get through.

It might allow more operations like his and for the expansion of the fleet of crabbers and shrimpers that works out of Hernando Beach.

It definitely improves safety for their crews and, even more so, for the people in little skiffs that had to dodge these big, commercial vessels in the narrow, boulder-littered predredge channel.

It now can accommodate wider, longer sailboats and cabin cruisers. And even if you think these are just toys for rich egomaniacs, you have to admit that these rich egomaniacs tend to spend a lot on houses near the Gulf of Mexico, which should do good things for the real estate market.

"I think this is going to make a great deal of difference," said Wanda Evans, the broker at Hernando Beach Realty.

And, though I'm not sure how to go about figuring this, I wouldn't be surprised if the dredge's long-term boost to property values brings in enough tax revenue to pay for the work.

The point is that the dredge long has been the main local example of everything that can go wrong with public works — delays, cost overruns, overreliance on well-paid consultants and engineers (that means you, Halcrow Inc.).

So now, maybe, we should look at what can go right when the public gets involved: more jobs and recreational opportunities, higher safety standards, increased overall community value.

Just a few months ago — before contractor BCPeabody started to make good progress on the dredge — I heard a lot of grumbling that the dredge wasn't worth it. Back then, when I first called it a "ditch'' in a column, I was even starting to think that way myself.

If the county couldn't meet the Jan. 1 deadline for a state grant that paid for part of the work, I thought we might just have to give up on the dredge.

When I went out to Hernando Beach on Wednesday and saw the dredge and the opportunities it creates, I was very glad we didn't.

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