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No money, no canal dredging: Port Richey City Council faces permit deadlines on former mayor Dale Massad's pet project

Port Richey city government has been left paralyzed by the recent arrest of two mayors: Dale Massad, top left and Terrence Rowe, bottom left. The latest crisis is over funding for much-needed dredging of residential canals that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. [Times files]
Port Richey city government has been left paralyzed by the recent arrest of two mayors: Dale Massad, top left and Terrence Rowe, bottom left. The latest crisis is over funding for much-needed dredging of residential canals that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. [Times files]
Published May 15, 2019

PORT RICHEY — While former Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad sat in jail Tuesday night, the City Council determined that continuing the city's long embattled dredging project — Massad's biggest pet project over the years — likely is sunk.

The Council met again Tuesday with two seats vacant. Massad remains jailed without bond on charges of shooting at Pasco County Sheriff's deputies who raided his home in February over concerns that he was practicing medicine without a license. And Terry Rowe, the former vice mayor who became acting mayor after Massad's arrest, was suspended from his duties after he was arrested in March on charges he conspired with Massad against a police officer who helped investigate Massad.

Once again, the remaining council — Vice Mayor Will Dittmer and council members Richard Bloom and Jennifer Sorrell — opted not to fill Rowe's spot. A special mayoral election is set for June.

As that drama continues, the epic fall of Massad that made national headlines is coinciding with the demise of the project he pushed for most as a politician — dredging Port Richey's clogged residential canals that flow out to the Gulf of Mexico.

Port Richey is staring down an impossible Oct. 1 deadline to dredge 27 of its canals. On that date, its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits will expire. And the city can't afford to do any more dredging, City Manager Vince Lupo said on Tuesday.

Over almost two decades, the city has spent nearly $2 million in engineering and permitting costs in preparation for dredging its canals, which in places are impassable at low tide. Over the years, frustration has been high as funding the dredge itself has eluded the city.

Hope emerged in 2017, when the city received more than $660,000 in so-called Restore Act funds to dredge three canals, work that is underway. The money was paid by British Petroleum following its 2010 oil spill into the Gulf.

The city has no money to fund further dredging before the deadline, Lupo told the Council. He said that for years, dredging has languished, including in previous administrations.

"These permits have been extended and extended and extended for various political and economic reasons, and nothing moved forward," Lupo said. The permits cannot be extended again, Lupo told the Tampa Bay Times.

Council member Richard Bloom asked if the council could dredge certain canals before the deadline, notably one named Quist at Old Post Road, where he said there has been flooding.

Lupo said that could be an option, but there is no money set aside for it.

"There are no blueprints," Lupo said. "There is no plan for the testing of that soil. There is no real plan for the relocation of that soil, or the disposal of that soil. There has to be a certain basis before you can move forward in that direction."

Bloom said losing the permits will be a "shame," pointing to the past lack of action by the city.

"You play the cards you are dealt with," he said.

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