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Dredge causes a stir -- again

A casino boat company says a rival is damaging the bottom of the river. A state environmental specialist says the dredge is permitted.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


PORT RICHEY -- The dredging operation set up Monday on the Pithlachascotee River is stirring up more than the silt on the bottom.

Stardancer Casino Cruises has started its second dredge around the old Joshua's Landing on Bayview Street since it arrived in May, and like last time, its rivals are objecting.

However, this time, the two sides have kept to just sharp words.

"I can't strongly express my disagreement enough, that this is improper," said Paradise of Port Richey attorney Larry Crow.

"We wouldn't do it if it wasn't proper and legal," said Stardancer Casino Cruises attorney Lanny Rauer.

When Stardancer came to Port Richey in May, the first indicator that it had arrived was the dredging equipment. The first sign the boat wars were going to be ugly was when a Paradise employee was arrested for diving into the river and cutting a line tied to the dredging operation.

Paradise claimed it was protecting its boats, which had been damaged by the dredging equipment; Stardancer said Paradise moved its boats in the way in an attempt to block the company from dredging.

On its face, the dredge seems simple. To give the Stardancer shuttle boats more room to maneuver, they're removing silt from an area about 30 feet by 30 feet, hidden under the water between the rival companies' docks.

But with the two companies, little is simple.

First there is the disputed property line: The two never have settled the issue, and both claim to be right and that the other is trespassing.

Second is the pending lawsuit.

In August, Paradise sued Stardancer, claiming that its rival was gouging the bottom of the river with the propellers from its boat and damaging the river bottom.

On Monday, Crow, who also serves as a state representative for Palm Harbor, said Stardancer would hear about its dredging when the lawsuit goes to court.

"By dredging this, they're trying to quickly get rid of the evidence" of bottom scarring, Crow said.

Rauer denied that, saying, "It's just a maintenance dredge."

"It's a dredge we tried when they blocked us," he said.

Terry Cartwright, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said the dredge was proper, and Stardancer had specific instructions on what not to dredge.

Cartwright said the dredge was permitted because it would restore the bottom to a historic channel depth. Crow disputed that there was a channel there at all, and therefore nothing to maintain.

Rauer said Stardancer is working with DEP to follow the rules, and trying to form a plan to keep its boats from damaging the bottom. He said the dredge, which will close Stardancer's Port Richey operation this week, is part of that effort.

"We'd just like to go about our business," he said.

- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com

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