By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
GIBSONTON — South Shore residents and seasonal visitors, boating and fishing aficionados all — are chomping at the bit to get the temporarily defunct boat ramp at Williams Park back on line here. But outdoor enthusiasts will be delayed, inconvenienced and forced to seek alternative venues for the on-water activities in the Alafia River, which runs under the U.S. 41 bridge, arching above this spot near the western egress into Tampa Bay in the shadow of the giant Mosaic Co. facility.
Named after a prominent area family, which donated the land for the park years ago, the Williams Boat Ramp and Park offers, when it is open, one of the busiest boat ramps in Hillsborough County. The county has an estimated 40,000 registered vessels and its prominent peninsular-like features provide abundant access to Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, rivers and sloughs, thus creating a boater and fisherman’s paradise. Until its temporary closing for boat ramp improvements in December 2018, Williams Park was ranked as the second-busiest boat ramp in the county with about 12,000 launches annually. That number has come to a virtual standstill, however, and now, after several weeks of no construction activity, the renovations are back on pace with a possible construction completion date of Memorial Day, which falls on Monday, May 27, this year.
“We’ve had a few hiccups here recently with some issues with subcontractors,” Jason Chilson told The Observer News last week. Chilson is the section manager of the county Conservation & Parks Department. He added that the main company, Flores Construction, has added new subcontractors and “if they work seven days a week” they can finish the improvement project by early summer. “In the meantime, the nearby fishing pier should be open any time now even though the ramp is closed,” he added.
The original price tag for the project was half a million dollars. Now that has ballooned to an estimated $700,000. But Chilson points out that the project is not financed through the county general fund. It is being paid for through the Boating Improvement Fund, which is funded through boater registration fees and used only for projects that directly impact boaters.
Basically, the Williams project entails building a coffer dam in order to replace both ramps, remove the existing fixed dock, and install a three-part floating dock system. Most of the work will be handled off the barge sitting in the river close to the ramp. The two ramps onsite were deteriorating and needed to be replaced. The fixed docks had created a number of problems with the fluctuating tides. When the facility reopens it will feature new ADA-accessible floating docks, resurfaced boat ramps, an improved parking lot and a renovated fishing pier.
Chilson pointed out that during the downtime at Williams Park the public is encouraged to use the Riverview Civic Center, E.G. Simmons Conservation Park or the Cockroach Bay boat ramps to launch their vessels.
Social media and comments to The Observer News from the public concerning the Williams Park Boat Ramp include:
◄ The closing and construction delays are hurting my bait and tackle sales and restaurant business.
◄ I used it often, several times a month as I live just a few miles away. My neighborhood and others have a ramp and dock, but they need to be dredged. The permit process for dredging makes it ridiculously expensive for something that over a short time will return. Just a few hours of excavation could end up costing $15,000 to $50,000.
◄ It seems like the county could support a larger facility and with this one down the others are crowded.
◄ On the bright side, the swings are still open and the restrooms are still open. And you can still fish from shore in certain areas.
◄ Williams has easy access to the upper bay and to Beer Can Island;, it is not a bad place — just too much leftover paraphernalia (used needles and syringes) from hard-drug users littered around.
◄ Williams is a small park with a small beach, next to an industrial plant. However the trees hide the plant and the park is still scenic. I just wouldn’t fish or swim in the water due to its location.
Hillsborough County has recently embarked on a $2 million improvement program for area boat ramps in addition to Williams, the largest of the projects. Others around the county include:
■ Ruskin Commongood Boat Ramp, 1106 1st Ave., Ruskin: Redo the ramp, tear out the old concrete docks, install a new dock system and repair the seawall. Work is anticipated to commence on or before September.
■ Alafia River Boat Ramp, 4104 Alafia Blvd., Brandon: Resurface parking lot, fix seawall; project anticipated to start within a year.
■ Cockroach Bay Boat Ramp, 5299 Cockroach Bay Road, Ruskin: Stabilize shoulder for boat-trailer parking and improve erosion control at kayak launch. Project anticipated to begin early summer.
■ Courtney Campbell Boat Ramp, 12030 Courtney Campbell W., Tampa: Reseal, restripe parking lot and replace floating docks. Work already underway and expect completion in May.
■ Domino Park Boat Ramp, 2201 8th St. S.W., Ruskin: Replace pilings, install new decking. Project anticipated to start this spring.
■ Baker Creek Boat Ramp, 12095 Thonotosassa Road, Thonotosassa: Install boarding docks, add canoe launch. Project anticipated to start December.