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Candidates agree on Clearwater Pass Bridge issue

CLEARWATER _ Seven candidates for Clearwater offices appeared at a Sand Key campaign forum Monday and tried to separate themselves from the crowd. But when it came down to one of the most important issues for Sand Key _ the replacement of the Clearwater Pass Bridge _ the seven seemed to agree with one another.

The city must replace the Clearwater Pass Bridge as quickly as possible, the candidates said. The seven are campaigning for positions in the Clearwater city election, which is March 13. Voters will elect a mayor and a city commissioner.

The bridge sank 10 inches in 1987. State officials have tentatively agreed to help pay for a replacement that could cost $18-million.

Commission candidate Lee Savage said the most important issues for Sand Key residents appear to be "the bridge, the bridge and the bridge." Commission candidate Sue Berfield said residents don't want to go on "wasting money" fixing the existing bridge.

Commission candidate Jay Keyes said the closing of Dunedin Pass may have weakened the bridge by increasing the flow of water through Clearwater Pass. He said he favors dredging Clearwater Pass.

Robert E. Wright, also a candidate for commissioner, said he would do all he could to see that the bridge is replaced quickly. He said he's also concerned about the bridge on the Memorial Causeway, where cars often back up while boats pass through. "Eventually we're going to have to do something about the drawbridge on Memorial Causeway," he said.

Mayor Rita Garvey said she was committed to making sure the new bridge had no tolls. Commissioner Don Winner, a mayoral candidate, said he supports a new bridge and opening Dunedin Pass.

By opening the pass, the city has a better chance of winning federal approval for a high-level bridge instead of a drawbridge, he said. Maintenance on a high-level bridge would cost less, Winner said.

Winner said the city perhaps should consider the possibility of a bridge from Sand Key to the mainland. He acknowledged such a plan would be extremely difficult, costing $75-million to $100-million, and would require permits from environmental agencies.

The candidates discussed several other issues, ranging from downtown development to city taxes.

Commission candidate Frank Mason said he was running because the city needs to trim its budget.

Garvey found herself put on the spot when asked to explain why she had said she didn't want Clearwater Beach to become another Sand Key.

She said she didn't think Clearwater Beach should be covered with high-rise buildings such as those that line Sand Key. Some listeners applauded her.

But the statement also prompted moderator Carl Meyer to say, "Frankly, we rather like these high-rise developments out here."