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Corps tells marina: Stick to plan

If the facility's owner wants gambling shuttles, the project may be delayed or worse.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007


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TIERRA VERDE  

The planned reconfiguration of the Tierra Verde Marina is gaining extra scrutiny after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caught wind of the possibility that gambling shuttle boats might moor at the facility.

The corps earlier this month granted approval of the marina's redesign and reduction in slips because the rebuilt facility would represent the same intensity of activity as the current marina.

But when corps officials heard the redesign might also include the frequent use of shuttles to an offshore gambling boat, they fired a warning shot across the bow.

"We authorized this dock reconfiguration ... based on a reduction in slips from 110 to 96," wrote the corps' Michael Nowicki of the Sept. 11 approval. If the corps had known of a plan to add boats "such as water taxis, gambling boats, rental boats, and tour boats," Nowicki wrote, it would have had to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service because of an increased threat to manatees.

Therefore the corps' approval "will only remain valid if no larger boats are added and no boats of the type described in the manatee key rules are added unless these type of boats existed in the original marina."

The corps' approval is just one of many the marina must navigate to rebuild its aging, outdated facility, but the owners' original desire to include gambling shuttles has complicated the process. Pinellas County earlier this year granted approval for the reconfiguration, but only after reassuring nervous neighbors that gambling shuttles would require a separate approval.

Marina owner Richard Fabrizi said he had no comment on the plan and suggested gambling shuttles were not at issue, but the possibility of such boats in the midst of a residential area has been foremost in public discussions of the issue. Neighbors believe the marina was trying to sneak through the approval process by carefully managing which government agencies knew about the shuttles.

"This is the cat-and-mouse game that gets played around here," said John Thomas, attorney for Tierra Verde residents opposed to the plans. "The owners need to come clean right now or they'll run the risk of having the whole operation shut down."

Fabrizi requested in December that the state change his lease for submerged lands under the marina to allow gambling boats.

In February, an application to the county for reconfiguring the marina made no mention of gambling boats. Only in May did the county learn, from neighbors, of any notion of gambling boats.

After county hearings on the reconfiguration showed opposition to the gambling shuttles, the marina withdrew its request on the change to its submerged land lease. In a July letter to the Department of Environmental Protection, the marina's consultant wrote the marina wanted to "decouple this issue in order to expedite the permit" but, "The question regarding the moorings of shuttle craft will be addressed at some point in the future."

Thomas said this decoupling was an attempt to avoid scrutiny. Nowicki said it might have worked.

"Down the road, if they decided to change the use, it's impossible for us to tell," he said.

Nowicki said the marina might still get the approval it needs even if the corps knows of the gambling boats, but that knowledge will lengthen the process and require greater review. Even now, he said, he can't revoke the approval because of the possibility of gambling boats.

"We can't go on speculation that there might be gambling boats in the future," he said, "but they are now on notice."

If the marina were to rebuild and then add gambling boats, Nowicki said he's unsure what would happen. Thomas said he thinks the approval could be revoked.

Neighbors would certainly make sure every permitting agency knew what was happening, as Thomas had notified the corps of the gambling boat issue.

"We don't think they should be allowed to separate these things to slip them through," Thomas said.

Fabrizi said he still does not have all necessary permits for the marina reconfiguration and will wait until that time to discuss the matter further.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

[Last modified September 30, 2007, 00:21:24]


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