TARPON SPRINGS — Millions of dollars that were slated to pay for dredging the Anclote River channel have been diverted to Hurricane Michael relief efforts in the Florida Panhandle, city officials say.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis said in August that securing $3.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Anclote River Dredge Project was "the biggest victory we got in 2018."
The massive, multi-agency effort would completely dredge the river channel as well as the main vessel turning basin, something that hasn't been done in more than in 25 years.
Now that money is headed elsewhere.
"There are three tiers of projects, and Anclote was a tier three project," Bilirakis spokesperson Summer Robertson said recently.
According to Summers, the Corps of Engineers said it would fund projects in tiers one through three, and then Hurricane Michael happened.
Under Corps of Engineers guidelines, the agency can't fund any tier three projects if that would leave tier one and two projects unfunded, Robertson said.
"So, they've diverted the money from all of the tier three projects that were funded, including Anclote, and they've sent that money to the Panhandle," Robertson said.
Robertson said an emergency funding package is scheduled to be voted on soon, which is expected to replenish the funding for tier three projects.
"We have bipartisan consensus on an emergency supplemental package that should be moving very, very soon," she said.
Bilirakis, Robertson said, has discussed the matter with Mick Mulvaney, the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget and the acting White House chief of staff, and tier three projects would be funded again once the supplemental appropriation is approved.
The diversion of the dredging funds will have no effect on the project's momentum, Mayor Chris Alahouzos said.
"I understand the federal funding is temporarily held up, but the project is still going on," Alahouzos said. "The design phase is still moving on and we hope the funding will be in place by the time it's completed."
In a related development, the city recently approved a recommendation to enter an agreement with Pinellas County to have the county contribute $300,000 to help fund the planning, engineering and design of the project.