City will drop 3 canals from project

Officials don't want to delay getting state permits for 23 other canals set for dredging.

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

PORT RICHEY - The city's dredging project has hit another obstacle.

City officials figured by the end of September, they'd have a permit to dredge 26 canals, removing the muck and algae that clog those waterways.

But they learned last week that three of those canals will require additional studies by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Officials need to determine the tidal flow in those long, straight, dead-ending canals.

And that could delay the permit application for all 26 canals.

City officials hope to keep the process moving by dropping those three canals from this permit application, and adding them to a later dredging project.Even if that's possible, DEP says the city still has unresolved issues with the remaining 23 canals.

Like finding a place to store the heaps of muck that will be removed from them.

City officials haven't proposed a site where they hope to dump the muck and silt. Mayor Richard Rober said a city-owned site on Oreto Drive could be an option.

"Other than Oreto Drive, I don't know of another site that's suitable for what they are discussing at this point," Rober said.

Rober said he hopes DEP will allow the city to proceed without asking for more studies.

"I know they've issued dredging permits before in the city, but how many more requests for information are we going to need?" the mayor asked. "We are studying this thing to death."

Also at issue is funding. City officials have not identified a way to pay for the dredging, which is estimated to cost millions of dollars.

"You've got to get the permits before you can start looking for funding," City Manager Jerry Calhoun said in an interview last week.

When city officials tapped consulting firm the LPA Group to spearhead the dredging project last year, they applied for three permits: one for the 26 canals and two separate permits for canals at Brasher Park and Lake Deirdra.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, city officials decided to draft a letter to the LPA Group, asking the consultant to ask DEP to drop the three canals in question from the first permit.

City Attorney James Mathieu sent an e-mail Wednesday asking Calhoun to draft the letter. Calhoun is out of state preparing for a job he'll take next month advising local governments in Iraq. His last day as city manager is Sept. 7. Then, Mathieu will take over as interim city manager.

"He is in touch, and he'll be here next week," Mathieu said. "I will leave it up to him."

Mike Latini, a member of the Port Authority Board, which advises the City Council on the dredging project, said after years of trying to secure the permits, the whole situation is frustrating.

"This isn't a guarantee that they are going to give us a permit," he said. "DEP could come back for more information on everything again ... and right now, those three canals are just dangling out there."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.