tampabay.com

Still more hurdles for boat slips

The project was approved by voters, but now it must clear its environmental checks.

By MIKE DONILA
Published April 13, 2007


CLEARWATER - City leaders just finished a long, multiyear journey, winning voter approval of an $11-million downtown boat slip project.

Now they'll go through another tough process before building the 129 floating concrete boat slips, a promenade, boardwalk and fishing pier near Coachman Park.

That step? Securing four permits and proving that the project won't hurt the environment - a process that will include a chance to hear public opposition .

City officials say they're confident the project will pass muster within a year so that construction can begin. But other experts say there's no guarantee to that time line or approval.

Clearwater needs permits from the Florida Department of Environment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pinellas County Water and Navigation Control Authority and the city's Community Development Board.

The permitting process will also include other agencies, however. For example, the state will seek comment from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation.

"I don't think it's ever smooth sailing when trying to get a permit for a marina," said Don Ross, president of North Port-based EarthBalance, an environmental restoration firm.

Ross said minor details could come into play. For example, certain materials on boats, like copper, can affect nearby sediment. So, too, could fuel spills, even though the docks won't have a fuel supply and will prohibit fueling.

Ross said it's also possible the permit process will require that the docks be reconfigured to protect nearby sea grass. And the permitting agencies, he said, will also need "reasonable assurance" that the project won't affect water quality.

City leaders will meet Monday with Wade Trim, a Tampa civil engineering firm that the city has hired to help guide it through the process, which is expected to cost about $60,000, including contractors' and consultant fees.

"The good thing about this project is that we're not impacting seas grasses and the habitat is very minimal, so we think it will only take a year," to finish the overall process, said David Gildersleeve, executive vice president of Wade Trim.

But Jake Varn, a Tallahassee-based lawyer working as a city consultant, said "if someone wanted to get in there and create an issue or stir up an issue, (the permitting process) could take much longer."

Varn, though, feels the project will won't have any problems.

Still, there are going to be a lot of eyes on it.

Pat Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said project is in "the kind of habitat where manatees would frequent."

Although, he didn't know how often the animals were in the area, he said he'll "get involved early on" and follow the permitting process.

Save the Bayfront, which fought the project, also will keep close watch.

"We have already been looking at what will be our next step to protect Coachman Park from over development," spokeswoman Anne Garris said.