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Apollo Beach channel dredging nearing reality

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image Len Berkstresser, president of the Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group. Melody Jameson Photo

Buoyed by the cooperation of several governmental entities, volunteers piloting a channel dredging effort here are tacking toward a June start date.

By MELODY JAMESON

APOLLO BEACH – Buoyed by the cooperation of several governmental entities, volunteers piloting a channel dredging effort here are tacking toward a June start date.

They may have to trim sheets and weather a financial downdraft, however, to get there.

The Apollo Beach Water Improvement Group (ABWIG) has raised about $108,000 in donations from companies and individuals in its most recent effort to finance silt cleaning of the channels that give outbound AB boaters access to Tampa Bay and to their home docks on the return trip. Len Berkstresser, ABWIG president, made the announcement to about 80 AB area residents during a community town hall hosted by the group last week.

The session followed closely a meeting involving several agencies with expertise pertinent to the project and brought together by Sandy Murman, Hillsborough county commissioner representing District One that includes Apollo Beach. Murman, present for the town hall, noted that “you’ve been a strong group; you’ve raised money and you’ve raised your voices.”

Those coming aboard to form a public-private partnership and help with the project in a variety of ways include Hillsborough’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, the county’s Environmental Protection Commission, the county administration, The Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Tampa Port Authority, along with ABWIG, Bertstresser said.

Their objective is arranging and financing dredging of the north and south channels to a depth of seven feet at mean low water, depositing the dredged material at minimal cost and employing the optimum means available to prevent facing the task again any time soon. The north channel, between the northern edge of Apollo Beach and Tampa Electric’s Big Bend power plant, rounds the tip of the AB Nature Park at the north terminus of Surfside Boulevard. The south channel serves the canals in the southern portions of the boating community, Andalucia as well as Symphony Isles and Mira Bay.

Cleaning out the multiple smaller canals bordered by individual homesites and residents’ docks is not included in the project. Hillsborough County a few years ago offered waterfront home owners opportunity to create special taxing districts using a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) concept whereby they could repay canal dredging costs the county would underwrite for them with a new tax added to annual property tax assessments over a period of years. Few canal front homeowners were interested.

The original estimated cost of the channel dredging project was $350,000.

Berkstresser indicated the scope of work in and around the north channel will include not only dredging but also renourishing the beach portion of the nature park and installing WADs, the pyramid-shaped, hollow concrete wave attenuation devices that redirect wave action and are expected to both prevent beach erosion and protect the channel from re-silting.

The county administration and the parks department have indicated financial help forthcoming from their budgets, Berkstresser said. However, he added that the north channel work cannot be undertaken this summer because the funding is not yet in place and it cannot be undertaken during cold months because of the manatee population wintering in the warm power plant run-off waters. Consequently, this portion of the project probably will be scheduled during the summer of 2013.
Work on the south channel dredging, however, could be undertaken early this summer, if the financial burden were shared among all of the benefitting neighborhoods, the president added.

The ABWIG dredging fund now standing at more than $100,000 was kicked off initially with a $35,000 donation by Tampa Electric Company. The utility added another $15,000 to that figure when asked for help a second time, Berkstresser noted. Symphony Isles has contributed $30,000 to the project and Andalucia pledged $3,500. The Mira Bay Mariners stepped up with a $1,000 contribution. In addition, private parties have made cash and in-kind donations, Berkstresser said, and dozens of smaller contributions by members of the AB community have swelled the kitty further.

But when pressed, Berkstresser also acknowledged that neither the Mira Bay community as a whole nor Newland Communities, the Mira Bay developer now poised to begin the massive Waterset collection of neighborhoods on the east side of U.S. 41, have responded to the funding campaign even though Mira Bay homeowners stand to benefit considerably in both the short and long terms.

Concerned about the potential for a closing window of opportunity if permits now in hand are not exercised in a timely manner before expiration dates, he added that the campaign needs another $40,000, and quickly.

Nonetheless, the ABWIG leader said he still has a dredging start date penciled in on his June calendar. “The tipping point is $150,000,” he said, adding that he remains optimistic “it is doable.”

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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