May 19, 2020
By: Tiffany Razzano
PORT RICHEY – Pasco County commissioners narrowly approved an updated version of the Port Richey Waterfront Redevelopment Project in a 3 to 2 vote at their meeting Tuesday.
Chairman Mike Moore and Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Mike Wells supported the project, while Commissioners Jack Mariano and Ron Oakley voted against it.
The project, which was approved for funding through the federal Restore Act, has been in the works for years and was originally approved by commissioners in 2015, said Mike Carballa, assistant county administrator of public infrastructure.
The original proposal focused on improvements to “navigation, access, and water quality” in three phases, he said. Phase I called for the dredging of commercial channels and some redevelopment of the city’s Waterfront Park. Phases II and III focused on the dredging of Millers Bayou and 25 man-made canals, respectively.
Port Richey received $667,000 to fund a portion of Phase I. This initial funding was designated for the commercial canal dredging and relocation of a boat ramp. Plans were later amended to include the restoration of Orange Lake, work at Sunwest Park and Key Vista, and school board projects, Carballa said.
In 2018, as the project was further developed, commissioners approved a grant agreement with the U.S. Department of Treasury and a sub-recipient agreement with the city. After the county received bids for the project last year, “some restructuring was required,” he said, and in November, the grant agreement between Pasco and Port Richey was terminated.
Commissioners directed county staff to maintain the Restore Act funds allocated for the project, and to continue advising Port Richey leaders as they revised and resubmitted their plan.
The revised project presented to commissioners May 19 focuses heavily on dredging Channels 1 and 26A to improve public access and water quality. Some dredging of other canals and the boat ramp have been removed from the project, Carballa said. While this is “a reduction in scope” when compared to the original plan, it also adds other elements to the project, including a water overlay district, he added.
“The intent of the city waterfront overlay district is to improve the physical image and condition of the city’s commercial waterfront community, protect the environmental sensitivity of the Pithlachascotee River, enhance and revitalize the area into an economic focal point within the city by providing for land uses and development that employs the highest and best use of the waterfront properties and expand the city tax base,” wrote Branford N. Adumuah, Pasco’s public works director, in an April 27 memorandum to commissioners.
Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay said the city has provided $337,000 in matching funds for the project, which has been used to prepare the area for future work.
“So, we are set up and ready to go for dredging projects,” he said.
Tremblay added that there is “great need” for the work as Channels 1 and 26A “link the bayou to the river, allowing our boating public and private boaters to get out of the bayou and into the river.” Commercial and tourism boats will also benefit from the dredging.
The city will also use an additional $200,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency to develop the waterfront overlay district, including sidewalk, roadway, boat ramp, and lighting improvements.
Several commissioners expressed concerns that Channel 18 near Gill Dawg Tiki Bar and Grill and Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill, was not included in the revised plans.
Mariano said this canal is “integral” and “critical” to the project, which should not move forward without its inclusion.
Oakley said the times he has visited the area, he noticed boats having issues leaving the canals because of sand build-up.
Meanwhile, Starkey recalled personally running her boat aground near Whiskey Joe’s because of this sand.
“That build-up needs to go for the betterment of the waterfront area,” she said.
Still, after stalling last year, the project needs to finally move forward, she said.
“We need to get this moving so these people can enjoy the area,” Starkey said, adding that county staff and commissioners needed to continue seeking “solutions to get more dredging done in that area.”
In an interview with The Free Press, Moore said, “While I appreciate everybody’s comments, I felt like we needed to go ahead and move forward…Dredging is very important for that area for the residents and businesses and we want to get this thing going.”
Dredging of Channel 18 can possibly be revisited as a separate project or added to later phases of this project, he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to take baby steps.”