TARPON SPRINGS – Last summer, Tarpon Springs officials were thrilled to learn the federal government had allocated $3 million for the city’s Anclote River Dredge Project, putting the final piece of funding in place for the multi-agency effort to restore the channel, and its main turning basin, to normal depths.
However, last month they were told the money earmarked for the project had been rerouted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ hurricane relief efforts in the Panhandle.
“There are three tiers of projects, and Anclote was a tier three project,” Summer Robertson, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said on March 5, noting tiers one and two encompass life safety, or high priority, projects. “Then Hurricane Michael happened … and by the Army Corps guidelines, they can’t fund any tier three projects if they have life safety projects that are unfunded. 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 an emergency funding package was scheduled to be voted on soon, which was expected to replenish the funding for tier three projects.
But, despite the assurances, Tarpon leaders expressed concern over the news.
“I am very, very unhappy with what’s going on, losing the funding for the project,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said during the March 19 commission meeting. “But the project won’t stop.”
The mayor said he would continue to ask Bilirakis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for help and reach out to Florida’s junior U.S. senator, former Gov. Rick Scott.
Alahouzos noted the design and permitting phase of the project would continue to move forward using $300,000 contributed to the project by the county.
Commissioner Jacob Karr also suggested writing letters to the lawmakers voicing the city’s concerns.
Karr said he asked City Manager Mark LeCouris to draft a letter seeking help with the delayed funding to Bilirakis, Rubio and Scott, plus county commissioners, the governor and state legislators. “Because at this point, it’s basically creating a one-way river because there’s no way to turn around,” Karr said.
Alahouzos suggested LeCouris draft one letter to be signed by all five commissioners and sent to the appropriate legislators, and they all agreed.
During the March 26 commission meeting, Karr said the letters were ready to be sent out, and he noted he had a meeting schedule with Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers the following day to discuss the situation. “We’ve got to continue to push this forward,” he said.
Eggers, who attended the March 26 City Commission meeting, said he wanted to learn more about the project’s current status before proceeding.
“This continues to be of great importance not only for the citizens of Tarpon Springs, but from an economic development perspective, the entire county,” Eggers said. “I understand there’s a little bit of a delay and a snag, and I want to learn more about that. But we want to keep this project moving, and we’re still optimistic it’s going to move forward with no delays.”