TARPON SPRINGS — After years of meetings and discussions, planning and fund seeking, work on the Anclote River Dredge Project, which will restore the busy channel and turning basin to original depths following years of sediment buildup, is scheduled to start next month.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently appeared before the Tarpon Springs Board of Commissioners to provide an update on the multi-phased, multimillion-dollar project, which according to project manager Christopher Ren consists of four segments: Cut 3, the westernmost area of the project; Cut 5, which encompasses the middle portion; the Turning Basin, which is near U.S. 19; and the Dredge Material Management Area, or DDMA, a spoil site for the dredge materials off L&R Industrial Boulevard.
Following a brief summary of the project, Ren said, “I’m sure the question on a lot of ya’lls minds is what’s the schedule, how are we looking to do this project?” before outlining the timeline for the work, which includes starting construction of the spoil site in early September. “You’ll see them installing the pipe right around the middle to end of December, and once that’s complete, they’ll move on to Cut 3, the westernmost cut of the channel, starting around the middle of February,” he said. “From there they’ll move on to Cut 5 roughly around the end of February or early March, and then they’ll move on to dredging the Turning Basin in early April lasting until early May.”
Ren said after contractors conduct their final surveys, they would start exiting the site in early June. He also noted commercial vessel travel would be impacted when the cuts are being dredged, but he said the contractor would be “issuing notices of navigation before they start mobilizing so some of the larger boat owners will know to contact the Coast Guard to make arrangements to get out of their way.”
Ren said there shouldn’t be any issues for smaller, recreational vessels, but he said motorists should expect some “routine traffic rerouting” in the area to ensure traffic flows smoothly.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who has been advocating for the dredge for as long as he’s been in office, noted the project “is very, very important to our culture and our local economy,” and he said he recently spoke with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis to ask him to push for additional federal funding for the outer cuts.
After pointing out the Turning Basin work is comprised of two parts, the federal portion of the channel and the city’s portion, or the Extended Turning Basin, and noting the same contractor is doing both jobs, Alahouzos asked if the work would be done at the same time, and Ren said not the exact same time, but,
“We’re looking at them potentially dredging ya’lls project first, and then doing the federal site right after.”
Alahouzos also asked about getting federal funding for the outer cuts, noting “if we don’t complete the whole project, it won’t be useful,” and Ren said they have “continued to express our capability to the administration, we’ve told them, ‘Hey, we can do this work,’ and here’s how much it would cost.”
Ren added the funding request did not make the FY22 President’s budget, prompting the mayor to reply, “Guess I’ll have to work with Congressman Bilirakis on that!” In June, city officials learned they would be receiving more than $724,000 in funding from the state for work on the Extended Turning Basin.
Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis said he was glad work was starting on the project, and he requested the spoil barge be located on the north side so “we don’t have to obscure the river,” and Ren agreed to the request before noting the contractor would only work during daylight hours Monday through Saturday.
After the meeting, Mayor Alahouzos said he was ready to celebrate the start of the long-awaited dredge work, but cautioned they need to get more funding for the outer cuts. “I’m very excited about it,” Alahouzos said by phone, adding, “I’ve been talking to Gus about the additional funding for the outer cuts and he’s been talking to people in D.C. He’s determined to help us with this project because he knows how important it is to the local economy, and I told him if we dredge the channel without the outer cuts, it defeats the purpose of the project.”
When asked how he planned to celebrate the start of the work next month, Alahouzos replied, “I’m going to call Col. (USACE district commander Andrew) Kelly and have a nice dinner together!”