PORT RICHEY — A week after Pasco County dropped Port Richey as a subaward recipient of federal funding planned to be used to dredge local waterways, City County spent time regrouping and reassessing its priorities.
Council spent nearly 90 minutes of its Nov. 11 meeting discussing its response to the County Commission’s Nov. 5 decision regarding the use of federal RESTORE Act funding tentatively earmarked for city use. While Port Richey was dropped, the $667,000 of funding remains if a new plan of action is approved.
After plenty of debate, the city decided to put together and resubmit to the county another package that includes dredging Channel 1, which is in the vicinity of Waterfront Park and the Waterfront Overlay District, as well as improvements to sidewalks, lighting, parking and signage in the Waterfront District and disposing of dredged spoil materials.
Port Richey’s initial plan for utilizing RESTORE Act funds was accepted on July 17, 2015, and dredging has always been its predominant focus and expense. The Nov. 11 discussion showed that some members of council don’t believe dredging should that high up on the list of priorities and aren’t pleased with the county’s level of cooperation.
“I’m not one to leave money on the table anywhere, but I don’t think the dredging is in the best interest of the city, to dredge one canal,” Councilman William Dittmer said. “We have a lot of money that can do a lot of things for a small city. Our downtown, our parks, we have a lot of areas that money can be used for.”
“I know how putting together a packet with the dredging in it would make it look more appealing to the county because it would be a benefit to them also,” said Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell. “But I’m kind of for using all the money for the benefit of the citizens of the city, not necessarily the dredging.”
Alterations to the city’s original multiyear plan is what led to this month’s decision to drop Port Richey as a RESTORE Act subaward recipient.
The RESTORE Act is a federal statute created in 2012 in response to the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Its purpose is to allocate civil penalties paid by those held responsible for the oil spill.
The Pasco County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee was created in 2013 to assess the worthiness of submitted projects and recommend which receive funding.
RESTORE Act funding comes from the United States Department of the Treasury and goes to the county, which then disperses it to sub-recipients. The RAC initially approved three projects, with Port Richey’s Waterfront Park Revitalization Project set to receive $667,000 of nearly $1 million.
The initial project was a three-phase effort that included the dredging of three canals, channels 1, 18 and 26A, as well as the relocation of the boat ramp at Nicks Park to Waterfront Park, increasing boat launch capacity and parking capacity, and improvements to streetscapes, roads and parks. Along with $375,000 from the city, the project’s cost was pegged at $1,042,000.
The project was then pared to exclude the dredging of Channels 18 and 26A and construction of the new Waterfront Park boat ramp.
According to a Sept. 12 email between the county’s RESTORE Act administrator, Curtis Franklin, and John Stutts, a U.S. Treasury grants management specialist: “Pasco County’s request to limit the dredge to Port Richey Channel 1 and to remove the boat ramp and related improvements is a material modification to Pasco County’s accepted multiyear plan. To proceed with this change in scope and funding, a multiyear plan amendment would need to be completed to revise the Waterfront activities before Treasury could approve the grant amendment request.”
City Manager Vincent Lupo reiterated the city’s opinion that it “crossed every T and dotted every I” while submitting project related information, stating that the Nov. 5 County Commission decision came as an unexpected shock.
“The mayor, I and members of the council and the city attorney fought the issue because we believe we were correct,” Lupo said. “The issue went before the county commission and the final upshot was that they did in fact cancel the original agreement, however they reserved the funds for us and after a long discussion they decided that we would not have to go back to the RESTORE Act committee to be refunded, but that we would have to work out an additional plan with the county.”