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    Boat ramp in the works for Stansell Park

    A concrete launching area is part of a $1.9-million expansion proposal that includes restrooms, a boardwalk and parking. A public hearing is planned.

    By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 17, 2003


    PALM HARBOR -- It was an inconvenient end for a sunny day on the water.

    Bob Hay dropped his buddy, Don Harmon, off at the dock at H.S. "Pop" Stansell Park and turned his boat around.

    The pair launched the boat into Sutherland Bayou at Stansell Park. But they couldn't bring it in there -- the tide was too low to risk backing the truck into the soggy sand.

    Instead, Harmon had to drive the truck and trailer down to a private ramp about 5 miles away, where they would pay $5 to pick up the boat.

    "You can't get in except when the water is high," Harmon said.

    But changes are in the works. Pinellas County has a $1.9-million plan to redo and expand the park. The plan includes building a concrete boat ramp to provide access to the gulf. It also calls for adding parking spaces, building a boardwalk, adding restrooms and moving playground equipment across the street.

    County commissioners agreed this week to hold a public meeting on the plan sometime during the next month. A date hasn't been set, but county officials plan to hold it at Palm Harbor University High School.

    County staffers would get comments from the public at the meeting and incorporate suggested changes before presenting a final plan to county commissioners.

    Construction could start in about 18 months and be finished six months after that, said Jake Stowers, assistant county administrator.

    Cost is still an issue. The current plan would cost $1.9-million, but the county has $1.2-million of Penny for Pinellas sales tax money in the budget for the project.

    The park now has no ramp. Because of the gentle slope, trucks can back in without a ramp. But people get stuck on a regular basis -- so frequently that county Commissioner Susan Latvala joked that her son wouldn't want the ramp built.

    "My son has made pocket money over the years pulling people out when they get stuck," Latvala said.

    But Latvala thinks the plan "will be a huge asset to the north county" because there aren't enough boat ramps.

    "It puts the harbor in Palm Harbor," she said. "There's a huge need for it."

    But not everyone likes the idea. Oldsmar residents John Kerwin and his fiancee, Gail Heiniger, said Wednesday they like the park just fine without a concrete ramp.

    "It's Old Florida the way it is," Kerwin said. "We've got plenty of concrete boat ramps."

    The park now has a broad area of flat sand where people park trucks and boat trailers. Stowers said a ramp and better parking would allow mangroves and other vegetation to grow back in that area.

    Some residents worry that the change would mean the county would start charging for boat launching. But, while commissioners are discussing the possibility of charging for launches in all county parks, they have no immediate plans to do so here.

    Others like the plan. Palm Harbor resident Deirdre Rosen pushed her daughter, 9-month-old Gabrielle, on a baby swing Wednesday. Rosen and her mother, Averil March, like the idea of moving the playground away from the boating traffic.

    Rosen also said a boat ramp is needed. She lives down the street and has had to tow out a stranded truck.

    "I think it's a wonderful idea," Rosen said. Her other suggestion: Crack down on speeders coming to the park at the same time.

    Oldsmar resident Dennis Williams brought his canoe to the park Wednesday afternoon. He has a powerboat as well, but he only uses it here when the tide is high.

    "I just don't come here when it's low tide," he said.

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