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County searches for boat ramp sites

A new task force will help identify possible places to build new boat ramps after earlier ideas were abandoned.

NICOLE JOHNSON
Published May 26, 2005

Marinas and boat slips in the county are being redeveloped at a rapid pace, and with them, access to the area's waterfronts is disappearing.

But in a place known for pristine beaches and waterways, people haven't stopped buying boats, even though there are fewer places to put them in the water.

"You end up with a net loss," said Jake Stowers, assistant county administrator."Now you've got a large amount of water-dependent traffic that can't get to the water."

The problem has been on the county's radar for some time now, Stowers said. But solutions haven't come easy.

Last year, the county turned to Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor in hopes of installing boat ramps. But residents opposed the idea. Months later, county officials began considering installing a paved ramp at H.S."Pop" Stansell Park in Palm Harbor. The 4-acre park was considered too small.

Recently, county administrators set their sights on Honeymoon Island State Park for a four-lane boat ramp. The deal would have allowed the state to collect fees generated from people using the boat ramps, but environmental concerns and potential traffic problems stalled the idea.

But it hasn't completely sunk.

"For years the county's wanted to build a ramp on Honeymoon Island, but we're also looking all over the place," said Commissioner Susan Latvala, who has taken a lead in the boat access effort. "We just need to determine how it could be done so it's environmentally sound and useful."

A team of 10 will begin to determine those details today.

The county's first ever Boat Access Task Force includes people from the fishing industry, recreational boaters and environmentalists, Stowers said.

There are about 131,000 registered boats and 52 public ramps in the Tampa Bay area, according to a study by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Pinellas has about 50,000 registered boat users, Stowers said.

"It's a lifestyle here, and that's definitely true for Pinellas County," he said. "But it's also a commerce issue, so it's important we bring people from all those areas together."

There's no set agenda for the task force at this point.

"If we can get a bunch of hats together and a bunch of people talking about it, I think we'll start to hear some real interesting ideas," Stowers said.

IF YOU GO

The Boat Access Task Force will meet today at 5 p.m. at the Swisher Building, Room 211, 509 East Ave. S in Clearwater.

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