Audubon of Florida questions location of high-speed ferry terminal

GIBSONTON, Fla. - Forty-six acres of a 134-acre county preserve on the edge of Hillsborough Bay may be destined for a big change.
 
"This would be a deep-water turnaround with access to Tampa Bay," said Ann Paul of Audubon of Florida.

And it's the water that's driving that change. Proponents of a high-speed ferry service that would cross the bay want to use a portion of the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve for a ferry terminal, access road and parking lot. But Audubon of Florida has concerns.

"We have concern if this property is sold or transferred for a for-profit activity because that might set a very dangerous precedent for the environmental lands program for the county," Paul said.

Located just north of the Big Bend power plant in Gibsonton, the Schultz Ferry Park would serve users of the ferry service across the bay to MacDill, with plans to expand to other destinations around the bay, including St. Petersburg.

Although plans continue to move forward, they are far from final. Hillsborough County officials say it's investigating whether the project is viable before going back to commissioners for a final decision on moving forward to the next phase.

The Audubon Society designated two islands as bird sanctuaries a short distance from the proposed ferry sight and isn't opposed to the high-speed ferry outright.

"We're hoping that we can continue to work with the developer to find an acceptable location where this excellent project can go forward but without setting a negative precedent," Paul said.

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