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AB channel dredging delayed, but on course

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image Aixa Moore; Ron Kobosky, Mosaic plant operations manager; Earlene Reid; Len Berkstresser, ABWIG president; Larry Simpson, plant manager for Mosaic; Steven Alvarez, and Commissioner Sandy Murman. Melody Jameson Photo

Most magnificent efforts are challenged by multiple setbacks.

By MELODY JAMESON

APOLLO BEACH — Most magnificent efforts are challenged by multiple setbacks.

It’s the stuff of which good fiction is made. Probably because it’s also a reality of life.

A good case in point is the current channel dredging endeavor here. Finally, after years of presentations, communications, planning and piecing together, a major obstacle has been overcome. The big bucks needed to undertake the community benefit project have been accumulated.

The campaign that began with a $50,000 donation from Tampa Electric Company topped out last week with a $50,000 contribution from Mosaic, bringing the Apollo Beach Water Improvement Group’s underwriting kitty to $175,000. Cleaning years of settling silt from the channels that all AB boaters must use motoring or sailing to and from Tampa Bay surely was so close the clatter of the dredge working its way up the South Channel could be, well, heard clearly in imagination.

Just one small problem, though; well, maybe three vexing little but still surmountable challenges. Call it a matter of timing or, put another way, chalk it up to manatees, permits and bathymetric study results.

No matter how it’s parsed, the bottom line is the same. Given the hurdles, “it would be just insane to try to push ahead with actual dredging this fall,” Len Berkstresser said this week. Berkstresser, a business development director in the University of South Florida’s huge Health education division, has been leading the channel dredging endeavor since shortly after ABWIG was re-instituted some four years ago to reprise its channel cleaning efforts of the mid-1990s.

With sufficient monies now committed, dredging the South Channel is scheduled to get underway early in April, 2013, Berkstresser said. It is anticipated that clearing the waterway bottom in a 60-foot wide swath to a seven-foot depth of some 5,000 cubic yards of silt will begin at the No. 2 Marker and proceed into the Bal Harbor section, then turn the corner into the access to Symphony Isles and Mira Bay – a distance of about a nautical mile or approximately 6,000 feet.

The dredged material is to be deposited on undeveloped Sunset Isle.

Berkstresser can be this precise about the South Channel because he now has in hand results of the commissioned bathymetric study. He received it, he noted this week, in July – about three months before the protected and slow-moving West Indian Manatees begin their annual trek up Tampa Bay to bask in their winter waters warmed by Tampa Electric’s Big Bend plant outflow, charming visitors to the manatee viewing station. “We simply cannot dredge between November and April,” he asserted.

And much work remains to be done before the first scoops full can be lifted out.

Then, there’s the matter of permits. At least one of the several required by various agencies expires on September 30, and yet another new one may become necessary, he said.

All of it considered, the Autumn, 2012, timeline has become a potentially crippling time crunch, demanding a longer perspective, Berkstresser said, “ a tough decision, but good management.”

Consequently, a new timetable is in place. He said the ABWIG board would choose by the end of September from proposals submitted by local engineering firms to take on the project management in terms of obtaining all of the required permits.

Requests for Proposals from dredging firms should go out in October and November is earmarked for evaluation of the responses, he added. Berkstresser said he foresees award of the South Channel dredging contract in early December, with a start date early in April. The job itself probably would require six to eight weeks for completion, he estimated.

In the meantime, the manager noted with appreciation the numerous sources of contributions that will make the Phase I project possible. In addition to the two largest donations by Tampa Electric and Mosaic, he said Symphony Isles put in $35,000, the Mira Bay Mariners through their door-to-door efforts around Mira Bay as well as from their own treasury gave a total of $15,000, and Lance Ringhaver’s Caterpillar dealership made an in-kind contribution valued at $10,000, he said. The residents of AB added in another $4,500 during that door-to-door solicitation, the Mystery Dinner event at The Boulevard netted another $4,500, then Lands End Marina kicked in $2,500 and so did Circles Restaurant, Berkstresser said. Another $2,500 came from Craig Beggins at Century 21 Real Estate and Andalucia dug into its pockets for $3,000.

When it comes to challenges, Berkstresser indicated, such supporters of the endeavor have shown the way.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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