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Port Richey Council: The dredge isn't dead yet

Port Richey city government has been left challenged by the arrest this year of two mayors: Dale Massad, top left and Terrence Rowe, bottom left. [Times files]
Port Richey city government has been left challenged by the arrest this year of two mayors: Dale Massad, top left and Terrence Rowe, bottom left. [Times files]
Published May 29, 2019

PORT RICHEY — After Port Richey voters pick a replacement next month for jailed former Mayor Dale Massad, city officials plan to talk one more time about revitalizing efforts to dredge the cities canals that lead to the Gulf of Mexico. Two weeks ago, those efforts appeared doomed. Voters in Port Richey will head to the polls June 18 to vote in a special election to replace Massad. He resigned after his arrest in February on charges that he shot at Pasco County Sheriff's deputies who raided his home over concerns he was practicing medicine without a license.

Scandal continued to swirl around Massad's case after his replacement, Vice Mayor Terry Rowe, was suspended from his duties by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Rowe was arrested in March on charges of conspiring with Massad against a Port Richey police officer who helped to investigate Massad.

The Port Richey City Council met again on Tuesday — still two members short — and failed again to appoint a replacement to Rowe's seat. The skeleton council has continued to do business, and the city's two-decade-long attempt to dredge 27 canals has taken center stage.

Two weeks ago, City Manager Vince Lupo declared that the city can't afford to complete the project before Florida Department of Environmental Protection permits expire on Oct. 1. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits for the project expire next year.

The city has spent nearly $2 million on permitting and planning for the dredge, which many believe will help alleviate flooding in the city. After the meeting two weeks ago, several people posted on social media their ideas for finding public money for the project. The conversation caught the attention of Vice Mayor Will Dittmer.

Dittmer told the Tampa Bay Times that after reading the litany of ideas — from moving city funds around to asking Pasco County to pitch in — he came to believe that the city should host an informational workshop on the dredging. It would allow input from the public and the county, and provide clarity from the city about what is doable.

City Council members Richard Bloom and Jennie Sorrell agreed. In a 3-0 vote, they set a tentative workshop date for June 25, with hopes of having a full council by then.

"This way everything will be on the table," Ditmer said. "Nobody has to guess what's going on from where."

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