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Casino boat docking plan may prompt incorporation

By NICOLE BARDO-COLON
Published July 18, 2007


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Tempers flared at the Tierra Verde Community Association meeting Monday as residents expressed their frustrations about the local marina, and the possibility of becoming an incorporated municipality.

County Commission Chairman Ronnie Duncan, County Administrator Steve Spratt and Assistant County Administrator Pete Yauch were in attendance to explain the county's approval of a permit residents fear will lead to the arrival of a gambling shuttle on their island.

Steve Fox, a resident, said there were clearly some errors in the Tierra Verde Marina's application to reconfigure its docks that the county overlooked. "That should be enough" to stop the marina from going forward, he said.

Yauch said from his review of the application, he did not see any mistakes.

Some residents complained they had to wait months before they learned of the marina's plans to create space for a gambling shuttle to a vessel offshore.

Spratt said Dave Walker, a county environmental official, received an e-mail June 1 confirming that the owners of the marina intended to have a shuttle to an offshore gambling boat.

Spratt said it was not until June 29 that they received a copy of the December application the marina filed with the state Department of Environmental Management. The application was for a waiver of the part of their submerged land lease that prohibits gambling.

"I understand the concerns," Spratt said. He said the marina would still need to obtain a permit from the county to proceed with any gambling operation. As of Monday, the county had not received an application for such a permit.

Nancy Biesinger, TVCA board member, said they are in the process of reviewing the marina's county-approved commercial dock application.

"We're considering seeking a re-hearing," Biesinger said. "We have 30 days in which to file."

Justin Summer, an attorney who lives on Tierra Verde, offered his services to help the association find legal representation.

"We need to get the best attorney and lobbyist and a $10,000 PowerPoint presentation if that's what it's going to take" he said.

One potential solution suggested was becoming incorporated.

About 140 residents attended the meeting, and the general consensus in the room seemed to be a push toward incorporation. "The only possible way to control our own fate would be to have our own municipal authority," said Frank Lauro, administrator for the association.

The population of Tierra Verde is about 3,500. That swells to about 5,000 in the winter months, Lauro said. According to the Pinellas County property appraiser, the land mass of Tierra Verde is approximately 640.78 acres.

TVCA President Paul Murray said the association sent out a survey in 2005 that asked residents if they would like to become incorporated.

He said the response came back negative. Biesinger said they plan to send out another survey very soon.

She said the process to become incorporated is a long one that could take more than 18 months. She urged the community to continue to work with the county for the time being.

"We are partners in this county. We want to find out where the gaps are," Biesinger said as she addressed the public officials. "To help you do your job and help our community stay the way it is."

"The key is communication," Duncan said. "It all starts with that."

Nicole Bardo-Colon can be reached at 893-8779 or nbardo-colon@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 17, 2007, 20:53:16]


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