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NOTHING LEFT TO STOP MARINA

The controversial Clearwater project plans 126 boat slips. So far, 23 have been reserved.

The city now has all the environmental permits it needs to build 126 boat slips on Clearwater Harbor near Coachman Park, and it intends to start construction Monday.

"We're good to go," said Bill Morris, director of Clearwater's marine and aviation department.

The series of 12-foot-wide floating docks beneath the western end of the Memorial Causeway bridge should be finished by February, said Ed Chesney, Clearwater's environmental manager.

At the same time, construction crews also will extend the length of the nearby Drew Street fishing pier, which has been closed. In its absence, some local anglers have been fishing off a 200-foot-long concrete promenade that was recently built at the west end of Cleveland Street. They sometimes cast a line there despite a "No fishing" sign.

This week, crews are repairing sidewalks and seawalls at the site in preparation for Misener Marine Construction to begin work on the docks next week. A stack of wooden piles is ready to be driven into the harbor floor. Crews will construct docks just south of the bridge first, then they'll work on the docks north of the bridge, Morris said.

Two years ago, Clearwater voters narrowly approved the $12.8 million marina project. It remains a sore point for critics of the city administration, who consider it a waste of taxpayer money. Critics also say too few boaters will rent the slips. So far, 23 boaters have put down $500 deposits to reserve about a fifth of the 126 spaces.

However, Clearwater officials think more boaters will rent the slips once the work is further along and the economy improves. They contend that the new docks will be good for boaters, will help boost downtown development and will eventually generate income for the city.

To get this far, the city had to navigate through regulatory hurdles to get permits from county, state and federal governments. Residents of the neighboring Pierce 100 condominium objected to the project.

Once the city secured its permits, it was finally able to collect a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the docks.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

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