Pasco County Commission approves Port Richey dredging plan

This aerial view of the Port Richey waterfront area outlines where the work from the revised Phase I dredging plan will be focused.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of allowing the Port Richey dredging plan to begin with the first phase the city had mostly wanted all along.

Commissioners Jack Mariano and Ron Oakley cast the two no votes.

That means the $1 million in RESTORE Act funds that was placed on hold in November will go to reimburse the city for its share of the dredging project. However, the new proposal will still face some approval requirements before any project begins, and that is one source of Mariano’s long frustration with the project’s newly limited first steps.

The RESTORE funds are received from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which is under the control of the U.S. Treasury Department. The fund was created to disburse money from the legal settlement related to the 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout and oil spill.

It was a letter from Treasury that caused the county and the city to call an audible last fall and attempt a “re-do” of the plans.

The original plans called for a Phase I dredging of commercial channels, redevelopment of Waterfront Park, and a redevelopment of the Waterfront District to include relocation of a public boat ramp.

Phase II would have dredged the Millers Bayou Perimeter Canal and Phase III would have involved the dredging of 25 man-made canals.

In November, the commission unanimously dropped Port Richey as a subaward recipient of the money the county had received and placed the $1 million already received on hold.

The county’s move at the time was motivated by a communication from the U.S. Department of Treasury that said a change in the scope of Port Richey’s dredging plan created an unacceptable “material modification of a multiyear plan.”

The city was planning to use the money it would receive as a RESTORE grant to dredge only Channel 1 and forgo the planned construction of a new boat ramp at Port Richey Waterfront Park. The city had been considering dredging other channels but opted for the downsized plan for the beginning phase of the total project.

That November action was basically a reset for the entire project as the commission kept the $1 million of RESTORE funds on hold to allow all sides to meet with the hopes of formulating a new plan.

The new proposal, which was approved May 19, includes a Phase I reduction is scope — downsizing the quantity of dredging sites and a proposed boat ramp “but adds other elements included in Phase I such as improvements to the Water Overlay District.”

County staff reported the revised project meets eligibility criteria because it contains “infrastructure projects that benefit the economy.”

Mariano has long argued there are funding avenues available to complete at least the large majority of the three proposed phases all at once and he presented a long list of data during the recent meeting to show a much larger project could be completed with the same funds that are on the table now.

“I am absolutely positive these funding opportunities are available and there,” Mariano told The Suncoast News after the meeting. “I have grave concerns that once again this reduced plan is going to be turned away by Treasury and this county will lose funding opportunities as well as the integrity we have built up with the environmental agencies on the issue of preserving the Gulf.”

The commissioner says the issue is really very simple — there is a way to do it all with no extra funds, and they said, “No.”

“We go the city and say we’re going to take care of the channels you want to get dredged. We’re going to take care of Nicks Park and make sure that gets taken care of. You can have your ornamental street lights up because that’s all in place, too,” Mariano said. “Then, on top of that, what we propose to do for you is we’re going to go and remove the sandbar that affects Whiskey Joe’s, Catches and the marina. We’ll clear all of that out for you. And then, we’re going up to the five channels most affected by flooding and water quality issues which comes from U.S. 19. We’re going to fix all of that area there and clean out those five canals so the water can flow. We’re going to make it so Miller Bayou gets cleaner and better water. This will also increase the property values of 78 homes probably by $100,000 a piece because they will have better water access.”

“We say that’s what we’re going to do with no extra money, and then ask the city what they want to do,” Mariano said. “Then they respond, ‘Nah, just give us the two.’”

Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay says the idea for the city is “to do as much as we can with what we have and move the city forward.”

“That is my goal and I think the council’s goal is to do as much as we can, and then once we are done with Phase I, then we move on to Phase II and Phase III and address those other issues that are still out there,” Tremblay said. “We have never withdrawn our request.”