Thursday, October 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Time to pursue or sink ferry to MacDill

A proposal to use local money to ferry workers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa always has been a questionable idea. The loss of nearly $5 million in federal money toward the project makes it all the more suspect. Itís time the ferry supporters offer a plan that makes sense or abandon ship. They also need to justify spending tens of millions of public dollars on a ferry that may or may not be of much use to the general public.

Leaders at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit acknowledged this week that delays with the ferry project resulted in the loss of a $4.7 million federal grant. That money was secured in 2014 with the help of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and intended for construction of a launch site. But the project stalled for years over environmental concerns, red tape associated with the grant, controversy over placing the boat launch near Apollo Beach and funding shortfalls. HARTís announcement was hardly news; county commissioners directed the staff in February 2017 to explore forgoing the grant and self-funding the ferry, saying it might expedite the service.

Four years is plenty of time to make a compelling case that this is a worthy project. The ferry would run from south county, where many MacDill workers reside, to the base. The developers once estimated it would carry 1,500 passengers a day, which sounds optimistic. While service would be restricted to those with access to a military base, supporters say the broader public benefit would be in removing traffic congestion from area roads at peak times. And some supporters frame the plan as virtually free, given that the county set aside $22 million to pay for the project through money it obtained from the BP oil spill settlement.

Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik, who represents the companies involved in the public-private venture, HMS Global Maritime and South Swell, said this week the countyís use of local money will put the project on a faster track. He estimates his group will present several site options with cost estimates, business plans and ridership projections to the county by January, and include provisions for service for the general public between Tampa and St. Petersburg. He also said the project could again pursue federal funding later.

The refined proposals need to make business sense and show strong ridership figures. They also should explain why county dollars should be going to provide a closed transit loop for employees assigned to a U.S. military base. In the grand scheme of things, $22 million is not much to pay for the capital costs of a new transit system. But shuttling one group of workers around is a low priority for local transit dollars. This project could still face a multi-million dollar funding gap. And using settlement money from an environmental disaster to ferry suburban residents to work hardly seems in line with the purpose of the settlement.

Water is an incredible asset for the Tampa Bay area to leverage for its transportation needs. But local governments have to be smart in using their limited resources. If this is the best use of the BP settlement, or any other public money, then the supporters need to offer more specifics and a clear timetable for the project to start. The county has already paid or pledged nearly $500,000 to examine this venture. Itís time to decide whether it deserves any more interest or public money.

Comments
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18