Published: May 03, 2011

Tampa to move ahead with dredging project

By Christian m. Wade

TAMPA After years of delays and wrangling over the price tag, Tampa officials are finally moving ahead with a plan to dredge miles of silt-clogged canals along Old Tampa Bay.

The project calls for dredging a 20-feet-wide by 3- to 5-feet-deep channel down a dozen canals in the West Shore area and a small portion of one canal on Davis Islands.

Irvin Lee, the city's public works director, said the city has selected a contractor, Duncan Seawall, but still needs to apply for required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other regulatory agencies.

"Everything is falling into place," he said. "We just have to follow the yellow-brick road."

Funding for the dredging will come from a $1 million federal grant and $1.8 million in matching funds from the city. City officials have already spent more than $600,000 on engineering studies needed to apply for the permits from state and local regulators.

He expects the work to get underway in about six months, but cautioned that that will depend on how long it takes to get permits from the environmental regulators.

A public hearing will be held May 12 at 6 p.m. at the Jan Platt Library and the proposed contract is expected to go before the city council for approval at its May 19 meeting.

For years, city officials and residents have wrangled over whose responsibility it is to clean up the canals, many of them carved into the coastline by developers in the early 1960s after the West Shore area was annexed into the city from Hillsborough County.

At one point, Tampa planned to tax residents who live along the canals at least $8,000 per household to pay for a dredging project a proposal that drew fierce opposition from West Shore property owners who argued that the city should foot the bill for the work.

Since then, though, city officials decided to move ahead with the project without taxing homeowners. They've also lowered the cost of the project from an estimated $6 million by reducing the number of canals involved and the depths of the proposed dredging.

Residential development and stormwater runoff have contributed to the deterioration of the canals, many of which have never been cleaned out. The muck from the bottom will improve water quality in the canals by increasing the tidal flow.

The dredging will also benefit homeowners who live on the canals and benefit the city by increasing property values in one of Tampa's most affluent neighborhood, officials said.

Some homeowners got tired of waiting for the dredging project to get under way.

In 2009, a group of Beach Park Isles residents chipped in $45,000 to dredge a canal in their neighborhood. The project removed 12,000 cubic feet of muck and silt.

That canal has been taken off the list for the city's project.

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