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Efforts renewed to relieve channel, canal silting

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...Things may be looking up for waterfront homeowners with boats

By MELODY JAMESON

APOLLO BEACH — After years of talking, studying, planning, but not actually digging, things may be looking up for waterfront homeowners here with boats that struggle through silt-filled channels and canals.

The silt won’t evaporate overnight, but two separate efforts – one private, one public, one dealing with the channels, the other focused on canals – are underway, with a possibility of action beginning in the fall.

Giving up on any publicly-financed waterway clearing resolution, a group of AB residents which years ago raised funds to dredge some of the community’s canals, once again is taking on the task – this time aiming for channel relief again underwritten by the community itself.

In the last two months, a reinvigorated Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group (ABWIG) has organized a fund-raising campaign, obtained permits and is zeroing in on the three channels that give AB boaters access to Tampa Bay from their canals, according to Len Berkstresser, ABWIG board chairman.

The objective is to dredge to sufficient depths the south channel which serves Andalucia boat operators, the secondary channel off that south link which serves Symphony Isles and MiraBay and the north channel adjacent to the AB Nature Park, Berkstresser said. The estimated costs now top $350,000 for removal and disposal of some 15,000 cubic yards of dredged material, he added. ABWIG’s first effort about 20 years ago topped off at $65,000.

In that era, the dredged spoil was more easily disposed of. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, much of the collected silt from the two most southern channels probably can be deposited to build up a spit of empty land known as Sunset Isle near the AB golf course, Berkstresser noted. Relocating the dredge from the north channel may not be as simple, he added.

To raise the funding, ABWIG members have organized into three sub-groups with specific contact responsibilities. One will focus on taking the message that what benefits boaters ultimately benefits all residents to the commercial operators in town, Berkstresser said. Another is charged with making resident contacts, both boat-owning waterfront homeowners and landlocked property owners, to explain how raising some boats actually elevates everyone’s investment. A third endeavor, dubbed the “pickle jar brigade,” will wrangle a collection of restaurant-sized pickle jars, labeled and strategically placed for contributions around the community, he added.

Asked about an identified timeframe for completion of the dredging project, Berkstresser said ABWIG has consulted with four dredging operators, assessed their viability for the assignments and compared estimated charges. Plus, the necessary permits are in hand, he added. But Requests for Proposals (RFPs) cannot yet be distributed and the permits expire in 2013. Consequently, the timeframe governing an effective project is a window of less than two years, he indicated.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County is moving ahead in the central county area with application of its suggested solutions which involve creation of a taxing district and discharge of the dredging costs fronted by the county administration with assessments on annual property tax bills over a span of years.

In keeping with concepts stated when studies began about five years ago, the administration ranked the first three projects identified as good prospects, Martin Montalvo, project manager, said this week. The first priority slot went to Sweetwater Creek in the Memorial Highway-Independence Parkway section of West Tampa, Montalvo said. Second-ranked was a Bayport project in the same general area. Third-ranked was an Apollo Beach project named the Masters Canal. However, since the initial ranking, the Bayport project has been withdrawn, therefore moving the AB project up to second in line, he added.

The Masters Canal project is in the same area as the golf course, Montalvo said.

The proposed assessment methodology that is to be used to recover their dredging expense over time from property owners involved in the Sweetwater Creek project is to be submitted to county commissioners in May, Montalvo said. Once commissioners approve, the Sweetwater project could get underway during the forthcoming summer months, he added.

Given this schedule, attention then could be turned to the AB project by early fall, the project manager noted.

ABWIG has created a website for community input and comment. The web address is www.abwig.org.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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