County agreeable to makeshift channel access
Pasco will seek regulators' approval for Driftwood Isles boaters to keep using a shallow path to the Hudson Channel.
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
Published January 28, 2005
HUDSON - The access for Driftwood Isles boaters might not be great. But under a new proposal, it wouldn't get any worse.
County engineers have drafted a proposal that would allow those boaters to continue using their makeshift channel to the Hudson Channel, even though it cuts through an area labeled as a sea grass protection zone. The idea would need the approval of state and federal agencies.
"That's great," said Driftwood Isles boater Paul Cruz. "At least we'll have something."
Boaters have used the shallow path for decades, leaving a trail of propeller scars along the sea bed. Many boaters were surprised this month to discover that the path would be cut off by a newly created sea grass protection zone - an area off-limits to motorized boats as part of the Hudson Channel dredging project.
Crews currently are dredging the 2.1-mile channel, uprooting about 7.7 acres of sea grass in the process. To get the state and federal permits for the dredging, Pasco County had to block off giant conservation areas for sea grass, a key piece of the aquatic food chain.
Originally county officials told Driftwood Isles boaters to go around the east end of the sea grass zone. But boaters complained the shallow, rocky area would tear up their boats.
Mauricio Guerrero, the county engineer overseeing the $2.6-million dredging project, put the new proposal on paper Thursday. The map shows a 150-foot-wide boating path cutting diagonally across the sea grass zone, linking the mouth of Cow Creek to the vertex of the Hudson Channel.
The path would cut across 3.1 acres of sea grass. Guerrero proposed extending the western boundary of the sea grass protection zone another 3.24 acres to make up the difference.
He said the proposal would need the blessing of the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"That's a lot of work to do," Guerrero said, "but we want everybody to be happy."
County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who has met with the boaters, said he is "cautiously optimistic" the proposal will pass regulatory muster. DEP southwest district director Deborah Getzoff sent a letter to one of the boaters saying "the Department will consider an alternative that is acceptable to the affected community(s)," as long as it meets state guidelines.
"Hopefully they'll be sympathetic to the boaters in the area," Mariano said.
The dredging started Jan. 11 but temporarily halted over this past weekend when crews discovered they were pumping muddy water into a canal. The work resumed late Monday, Guerrero said, after he met with DEP officials to address the problem.
Guerrero said crews now are working intermittently and running the equipment slower to avoid stirring up the dirt in the water.
Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified January 28, 2005, 00:21:17]
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