A plan to dredge coastal canals in western Pasco County is accompanied by a new wave of concern: Sticker shock.
Last year, private consultant Dewberry in Tampa recommended the county complete a dozen dredging projects of west-side canals at a cost of up to $13.5 million.
The true expense, however, largely is unknown because no in-depth engineering analyses have been conducted, according to a recent internal county report.
But if the cost of removing up to one-half million cubic yards of sediment and rock from seven channels matches the expense of dredging the Hudson Channel in 2005, then the price could top $51 million.
"My heart skipped a beat,'' Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said after reading the report.
"I would love to see dredging done. The price tag? I don't know where we're going to get the funding,'' said Commissioner Mike Wells Jr., a licensed boat captain.
Meanwhile, one of the proposed payment methods, a higher registration fee charged to Pasco's boat owners, hit its own bump. Wells, one of three commissioners representing west Pasco, balked at the idea.
"As far as the additional fee, I don't support that,'' Wells said.
The proposal, which has yet to be formalized and presented to commissioners, gained steam during the recent election season when state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, said her top legislative priority for 2019 would be sponsoring a local bill to allow Pasco to charge the higher fee to offset dredging costs.
At Monday's Pasco legislative delegation meeting in Land O' Lakes, however, no local bills were considered. Mariano said afterward she instead would seek to amend current state law allowing dredging to be included as an acceptable use of the fee proceeds.
Currently, counties can charge an optional boat registration fee that equates to a more than 40 percent surcharge to finance "patrol, regulation, and maintenance of the lakes, rivers, and waters and for other boating-related activities of such municipality or county.'' Canal dredging is not an authorized expenditure.
If the law is amended and dredging is included in the list, Pasco commissioners still would need to approve the optional fee on boat registrations.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, boaters registered more than 24,000 vessels in Pasco County in 2016. Those registrations would have generated approximately $220,000 for the county if it had assessed the optional fee. Thirteen Florida counties, including neighboring Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk, charge the local fee.
Commissioner Mike Moore previously questioned charging the fee countywide and said he couldn't back the proposal if his central Pasco constituents didn't support it. Starkey and Commissioner Jack Mariano like the idea and last week Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad attended the Pasco Commission meeting in Dade City to voice support for the plan.
But even if a higher local boat fee becomes a reality, the potential cost of the dredging could be exorbitant.
The county report said a sample of dredging work across the state showed the per-cubic-yard costs vary from as low as $20 in Clearwater Pass to $120 in Tampa. Dewberry's report for dredging canals in Hudson and Gulf Harbors included price estimates ranging from $12 to $20. But the 2005 dredge of the Hudson Channel cost $103 per cubic yard, the county said.
At $103 per cubic yard, the price to dredge three channels at Gulf Harbors and four in Hudson would be $51.5 million, the county report said. Even at a more modest price of $38 to $40 per cubic yard, the projects still could cost more than $19 million.
"We have to look at a more cost-affordable plan,'' said Starkey.
Detailed engineering studies would determine environmental impacts, mitigation costs and types of material to be removed from channel bottoms. Removing sand and silt is cheaper than pulling out limestone boulders, the report noted.
Commissioner Mariano said he believed the Dewberry data was flawed because the amount of material to be removed from the canals and the potential disposal sites for the spoils are unknown.
"You've got to have some real numbers to work with,'' he said.
Contact C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.