TARPON SPRINGS — City officials have gone to the county over and over again asking for money to help dredge the Anclote River — and it seems their pleas have been heard.
County commissioners say they plan to support the project to ensure better access to Tarpon's working waterfront through the river's channel, last dredged in the late 1990s and now as shallow as 3 feet deep at low tide, making it difficult for large boats to navigate.
"The dredge is a project that is important not only environmentally, but economically," said County Commissioner Dave Eggers. "It's something that is personally a big priority to me, and I plan to support it."
Other commissioners agreed, noting the current silt build-up prevents larger commercial vessels from making it to the Sponge Docks, where fishermen and shrimpers unload their catches. Word has also reached visitors with large recreational boats, many of whom now bypass the city for fear of running aground and causing damage to their hull. That, in turn hurts merchants and restaurants.
"This project is not only needed for the health and vitality of the river basin, but for that of the economy in the Tarpon Springs community," said County Commissioner Janet Long.
County Commissioner Pat Gerard said she is interested in the dredge because it's a project that works to economically boost not only Tarpon Springs, but the entire Tampa Bay region. It's unlike other projects that have a more one-city focus, she said.
Tarpon's request to the county is for $300,000 to cover the first phase of the project, which includes design and permitting and should take about 18 months, project manager Bob Robertson said. Once completed, the city can move on to buying a spoils site, estimated to cost about $2.7 million, and eventually start the actual dredging, expected to cost about $10 million — funds that will come from a combination of sources, including the city, county, state and federal government.
"We are just a part of the funding, a small part of the larger project," Gerard said. "With the city putting some skin in the game as well, we are happy to get them started."
County Administrator Mark Woodard said the money can come from one of two places: the general fund or the $7.2 million BP settlement. Both ideas have been tossed around, and the sum is currently included in the county's proposed budget, set for a final vote in September. Commissioners can decide to pull the money from either pot, but say it's no question the request will be fulfilled.
"I feel quite confident that one way or another we are going to be able to get this done," Long said. "It's government, so anything can happen, but I feel very comfortable saying that the commission will find a way to support this project."
Pantelis Klonaris, chairman of the city's Marine Commerce Committee — made up of residents and business owners passionate about the condition of the channel — said he isn't surprised by commissioners' willingness to help.
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"They see that this project will have a social and economic impact that makes it imperative for our community," he said. "From the inception of us talking with county members, as soon as they became aware of the condition of the channel, they have been proactive and seemed energized about the project."
City Manager Mark LeCouris agreed and said he couldn't be happier to know the much-needed dredge is one step closer. Mayor Chris Alahouzos did not return repeated calls for comment.
"We had a lot of confidence in the county," LeCouris said. "but for them to include the project in the proposed budget says a lot about what they are willing to do to help our city."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.