Clearing the north and south channels in Gulf Harbors are two of the dredging projects Pasco County is planning to conduct with money that comes from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County has been sitting on a boat channel dredging plans for more than a year now, but it finally looks like it’s full-speed ahead on at least three of those channels.

The county is working now to set up public meetings with residents of Gulf Harbors. An information-gathering meeting with residents who use the Hudson boat channel will follow.

The information will be used to move forward with the engineering surveys needed to provide detailed cost estimates for the dredging the north and south Gulf Harbors channels, as well as the Hudson channel at Hudson Beach, according to Tambrey Laine, Pasco County public information officer.

The three boat channels need dredging due to time and currents filling them with sediment that has made them dangerously shallow, particularly around low tide. In some cases, boaters with larger craft must carefully plan to use the channels only when the tide is up.

Sea Pines, Sea Ranch, Pleasure Isles, Westport and Driftwood channels also need dredging, according to the report done by Dewberry, the Fairfax, Virginia-based site and civil engineering firm that completed the County-Wide Integrated Dredge Management Plan in July 2017. At this point Pasco has chosen to start with Gulf Harbors and Hudson channel projects only to determine how far they can stretch funds from the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act. The RESTORE trust was originally created by the U.S. government to pay for restoration projects following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, in 2010.

Laine said $4.9 million in unallocated RESTORE funds is available over the next 12 years, and the county plans to pay for the dredging of the three channels using that money. Detailed reports and cost analysis are needed to apply for grants from the fund, she said.

Preliminary cost estimates were part of the Dewberry report, but they are only rough estimates, said Laine, and could vary one way or the other by as much as 40 percent. For example, the Dewberry report puts the Hudson Channel project at between $325,000 to a high of $542,000. It estimates the north and south channel Gulf Harbors dredging would cost between $3.7 million and $6.1 million.

The next, more thorough study, will narrow down those numbers, said Laine.

“The detailed engineering work will include surveying of the channel areas with sonar, permitting cost, identifying areas to stockpile dredged materials, etc,” she said. “We also plan to make minor changes to the channel dredging areas based on input from the public meetings.

“The final plan will provide a more detailed cost estimate that we can use to apply for RESTORE funding.”

After the estimates are in, the county would apply for RESTORE funding and decide what to do with any funds that might remain.

Laine said it is too early to say when dredging work might begin, and the focus now is on setting up meetings with residents of the three communities slated for the first dredging projects.

The Dewberry report projects that from study to permitting to completion, the dredging process takes about two years.