Saturday, February 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Dispute leaves no solutions for Tarpon's Sponge Docks

A project to enhance the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks has been halted following a sudden flood of criticism, unproven allegations and misinformation, and a city employee has been forced out in its wake. Now the only sure outcomes are that a project that could have brought more visitors to the docks won't happen and the community has failed to work together.

Four years ago, Sponge Docks merchants asked the city for a project to enhance the docks area. The city hired local architect Ed Hoffman to develop a plan and educate the community about it. The plan added new features to the docks area, including a river walk along the Anclote River, shaded seat risers to create a small performance area, an entrance feature, some transient boat docks and brick streets.

Over three years — no one can claim the city rushed — the project and costs were discussed in meetings with the City Commission, the public and stakeholders. The plan was modified as concerns were raised, but there was no outpouring of opposition.

URS, a respected national engineering firm, was hired to work up the engineering plans and seek permits from regulators. A project cost of $1.3 million was determined, and as of last month, more than $300,000 had been expended on plans.

Yet in April, a drumbeat of opposition began. It picked up after Costa Vatikiotis, former city manager and a retired engineer, wrote a letter claiming the transient docks and river walk wouldn't get approved by regulators because, among other things, they would interfere with the Anclote boat channel.

There was a furious public backlash, fueled by unfounded rumors that the city had created the plan to get rid of the sponge and fishing boats. Some said the city should have known from the beginning that the Army Corps of Engineers would not permit the project. Some claimed officials had tried to sneak the project past the public.

Three years of public discussion is hardly sneaking. Those who claim the city "should have known" regulators wouldn't give permits don't know themselves because the project was halted before an official decision.

Nor is there any evidence of a lack of city commitment to support sponge diving and Greek culture. The city pays to advertise the Sponge Docks, approves cultural events there, supports the Jolley Trolley route — and wanted to spend $1.3 million to enhance the docks.

The city employee who lost his job during the brouhaha was Joseph DiPasqua, the city's development review services director who ran the city when City Manager Mark LeCouris was away. No one is talking about why DiPasqua was forced to resign. Curiously, at a recent City Commission meeting, Commissioner Townsend Tarapani thanked the city manager for "listening to the commission" and getting rid of DiPasqua. Yet the commission had not discussed DiPasqua or any personnel change. If a commissioner or commissioners required LeCouris to kick out DiPasqua, they crossed a line. They don't have that right under Tarpon's charter.

Now, the problem that began the whole affair — the aging of the Sponge Docks area and the potential for an eventual loss of tourist traffic there — will go unaddressed. And after so much discord, there is probably no city official now or in the immediate future who will have an appetite for trying to develop alternatives.

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18