PORT RICHEY — Frustration boiled over Tuesday in Port Richey as city leaders opted to start over on a waterfront improvement plan — after theirs was cancelled by Pasco County — to obtain federal funding stemming from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Port Richey was excited to learn four years ago it would receive $667,000 in federal Restore Act funds to begin long-sought dredging of its canals. It became the subject of political retribution led by Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, in the eyes of one Port Richey leader, when the county pulled the plug on the funding months after the city accepted a dredging bid.
“To me this was straightforward, they cut our knees out from underneath us on this,” Vice Mayor Will Dittmer said.
Dittmer is referring to a Nov. 5 decision by Pasco County commissioners to cancel an agreement to dole out the Restore Act funds. The federal Restore Act dedicates the civil financial penalties related to the Deepwater Horizon spill back to affected communities.
The commission made the move after the U.S. Department of Treasury told the county that Port Richey had altered its plan by scaling back dredging just one canal and eliminating plans for a boat ramp and parking. Commissioners agreed to allow Port Richey to submit a new plan for consideration. This one does not go back to the federally mandated committee chaired by Mariano, according to Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo, but directly to the commission for a yes or no vote.
The council directed Lupo to submit a new plan to the county.
Dredging the canal fronting the city’s Nicks Park and waterfront restaurant district would benefit residents of the whole county, which the commission should look upon favorably, Mayor Scott Tremblay said.
The City Council also approved a plan to spend $300,000 of city money on lighting, sidewalks and road improvements throughout the waterfront, another addition that would illustrate Port Richey’s commitment to improving the area, City Council member Todd Maklary said.
In the end, Dittmer went along with the plan, but said he still believes the city is suffering retribution from Mariano, whose commission district includes Port Richey’s waterfront.
Mariano has made several appearances before the Port Richey Council, urging members to also seek state funding to enhance its dredging efforts beyond one canal. Mariano’s daughter, State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, recently led a now-stalled effort to dissolve the city, which city leaders intimated was spurred by her father, a claim both denied.
“Jack Mariano is going to shoot down everything that this city wants, period,” Dittmer said.