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Report: West Pasco channel dredges could cost up to $13.5 million

NEW PORT RICHEY — The cost of dredging a dozen coastal canals serving seven west Pasco communities could reach nearly $13.5 million, according to a consultant's report.

The study from Dewberry in Tampa recommends the county complete 12 individual projects in Sea Pines, Hudson, Sea Ranch, Pleasure Isles, Gulf Harbors, Westport and Driftwood to increase canal depths to 5 feet.

Spread among the benefiting property owners, the plan could mean new municipal service units charging an annual assessment of $177 for the next 15 years. The seven neighborhoods include nearly 4,900 individual parcels, ranging from the 1,334 homes in Gulf Harbors to just 126 lots in Driftwood.

Grant funding or tapping the county's share of Restore Act money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could offset some of those costs. The county is scheduled to receive $353,100 annually over 15 years in Restore Act dollars.

The price of the 15-year assessment of $177 a year per property owner "seems pretty reasonable. That's in the ball park,'' said Greg Myers, commodore of the Gulf Winds Sailing Club and a resident of the Sea Forest community within Gulf Harbors.

But there is a larger problem beyond price, Myers said. The study considers the main east-west channels, but not all of the secondary canals.

"What about the issue of accessibility?'' he said via email after reviewing the report. "If a person cannot navigate from their dock to the main channel then it does not matter the depth of the main channel. The county must address the issue of secondary canals (dock to main channel).''

The report from Dewberry is intended as a management plan for the county's 27 miles of shoreline and network of canals created in the 1960s in conjunction with the development of Pasco's coastal neighborhoods. Many of the canals have never been maintained, and years of collected sediment have narrowed the waterways, making it unsafe for two boats to pass. In other locations, boaters are forced to time their departures and arrivals with the tides to avoid getting stuck in shallow water.

The report is scheduled to be presented to county commissioners during their Oct. 24 meeting at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey. In an interview, Commissioner Jack Mariano echoed Myers' thoughts.

"We've got to look at every channel up and down the coast,'' Mariano said. "We need to exploit the benefits of living on the water in Pasco. It'll improve land values, the tax base and the quality of life. That's the key to redevelopment on (U.S.) 19.''

The proposed project list includes:

• Sea Pines: Dredging nearly 75,000 cubic yards from the Sea Pines main channel and the Donzi Drive and Southwind Drive channels with cost estimates ranging from $896,000 to just less than $1.5 million.

• Hudson: Dredging 51,000 cubic yards from the Hudson Channel and the canals at Harbor Drive and Clark Street with costs varying from $615,000 to $1 million.

• Pleasure Isles: Removing 126,000 cubic yards of sediment from the main channel at Signal Cove, plus canals at Buoy Court, Tower Drive, 5th Isle and Leeside Isle. Costs range from $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

•Gulf Harbors: Taking 307,000 cubic yards from the north and south channels at a cost ranging from nearly $3.7 million to $6.1 million.

• Westport: Removing 53,000 cubic yards at a cost of $644,000 up to $1.07 million.

• Driftwood: Dredging 11,000 cubic yards at a cost ranging from $133,000 to $222,000.

Dewberry recommended that the county use an outside contractor rather than attempt to purchase equipment and hire personnel to do the work in-house.

The county will need permission from both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers before any work can begin.