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Kings Bay dredging funded, questioned

Officials are unsure whether continuing the dredging is the county's responsibility, though the basin board voted to set aside preliminary funding.

The Coastal Rivers Basin Board's decision to set aside funding for the continued dredging of Kings Bay will give local, state and federal agencies time to develop a viable plan for the project, County Department of Development Services Director Gary Maidhof said Wednesday.

The board voted Tuesday to keep about $85,000 in next year's proposed budget. That amount would attract another $125,000 from the state if approved by the body's parent, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

But the project needs a partner to provide matching funds. Since the city of Crystal River dropped out by refusing to include money in next year's proposed budget, the county is now being looked upon as the most likely investor, board vice chairman Weston Stow said.

"I have discussed it with (Commissioner) Gary Bartell," Stow said. "This gives the county the opportunity to come up with the funds."

However, it's not clear at this point how committed the County Commission will be to a project that began in Crystal River's waters. Phase one of the dredging received mixed reviews, including complaints that the work did not improve water quality.

Maidhof said a considerable amount of research and discussion needs to take place to move the proposed dredging to another level.

To begin with, the original permits for the project will run out in September, which means a variety of governmental agencies must butt heads on a viable plan that can win the necessary approval. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers normally reviews any dredging projects.

Maidhof's suggestion is that the county wait for the completion of an ongoing program that is mapping vegetation before making any decisions. The program should indicate the best places to dredge and allow the commission to consider funding issues, he said.

Chairwoman Vicki Phillips already is expressing skepticism about the county's involvement.

"I'm not sure how beneficial it is to do these projects," she said Wednesday. "If I recall, what we did before was not that successful. I'm not sure that we have the money to put up for that particular project."

She also questioned Crystal River's lack of involvement.

"Kings Bay is in the city," she said. "I would think it would be in their interest to clean it up."

At the very least, the basin board's decision gives all interested parties time to discuss the issue, Maidhof said. By setting aside the funding, board members have guaranteed the money will not be lost in budgetary shuffles.

"I think Wes and the basin board did the first important thing and earmarked the money," he said.