TIERRA VERDE, Fla. — Residents of a Pinellas County community say they shouldn’t have to foot the entire multi-million dollar bill to keep their canal from drying up, so ABC Action News wanted to find out what’s behind the water worries along a popular boating waterway.
The I-Team has uncovered a canal controversy that’s pitting residents against county and city leaders.
A steady stream of boat traffic flows through Tierra Verde’s Grand Canal.
“Ninety percent of the boats that come through here are from other areas”
“It’s literally hundreds on a busy day. They’re coming in and out,” said Tierra Verde resident Sharon Calvert.
“Ninety percent of the boats that come through here are from other areas… Sarasota, Bradenton, Tampa, wherever. They come here, they use our fuel docks, they use our marina, they use the restaurant,” said Jerry Frulio, President of the Tierra Verde Community Association.
The canal was dredged when the island was developed in the 1960s, creating waterfront property now lined with condos and luxury homes on both sides.
“Grand Canal has always been dredge-free and maintenance-free. We’ve never had an issue. But there are certain issues that have occurred in the recent decade that have changed all that,” said Bill Bouwmeester, who has lived on the canal since 1986.
Sand from other places has been accumulating on Tierra Verde for the past five years.
A study commissioned by Pinellas County says tidal flow issues are to blame.
One of two passages to the canal closed.
New beaches formed where there was once deep water.
The Grand Canal is becoming narrower and shallower by the day.
Last month, the Pinellas County Commission addressed the issue at a meeting.
A study conducted by private contractor APTIM showed that about 30,000 cubic yards of sand per year have been eroding from nearby Shell Key.
Much of that is piling up in Tierra Verde.
“Grand Canal residents don’t own Shell Key. We have no responsibility for Shell Key. The only person that does is the county and the state,” said Bouwmeester.
The dredging project could cost $3.18 million
Pinellas County paid $200,000 for the study, but the county will pass the cost of dredging the canal onto residents.
Estimates are that the project could cost up to $3.18 million.
The county says Grand Canal is a private canal, so owners should pay an assessment based on their feet of frontage property.
For some owners, that could be tens of thousands of dollars.
“This is very, very common throughout the state of Florida for how they do dredge projects,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said at the July meeting.
But Tierra Verde residents don’t believe that’s a fair formula in this case.
“This is not a private canal”
“This is not a private canal, it’s a commercial waterway,” said Tierra Verde Community Association Vice President Larry McKinnon.
The canal has nine businesses open to the public, including a marina with nearly 500 boat slips, a boat club, a hotel, a restaurant, dolphin tours and water taxis.
“If this canal shuts down, you’ve got hundreds of jobs back behind us that are gonna be affected, you have hundreds of millions of dollars that have been collected over the last 10 years that’s going to be dried up. And everyone’s home that’s along this canal is also gonna be devalued,” McKinnon said.
The Tierra Verde Community Association sent a letter to Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg, which annexed land around the grand canal and collects taxes from those businesses, asking them to help pay for the project.
“This is a multi-jurisdictional issue. So I believe we need a fair way to fund it,” said Calvert.
The county responded in a letter that those revenues aren’t available, but county staff are working to offset the cost by repurposing sand from the dredging project to be used to renourish a nearby beach.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has not responded to the letter.
A city spokesperson sent the following response to the I-Team:
As has been noted in the TVCA letter, most Tiera Verde properties are within unincorporated Pinellas County and not within the City of St. Petersburg corporate limits. The TVCA is correct to work with the County on a dredging solution.
There are a few properties on Tiera Verde that do fall within the City limits. However, the use of City funds for dredging of coastal waters abutting private property is limited and regulated as described in the City's Code of Ordinances, ARTICLE VI. - LOCAL IMPROVEMENTS AND SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS.
Reference link here: https://library.municode.com/fl/st._petersburg/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIISTPECO_CH2AD_ARTVILOIMSPAS [library.municode.com]
The City can perform improvements in outside of the City Limits but only for improvements to assets such as water, wastewater reclaimed, where these services are currently provided.
This process for special assessments is as outlined under Fl Statutes 170.201 (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0100-0199/0170/Sections/0170.201.html [leg.state.fl.us])
That said, it is standard for the City to assist with dredging activities through special assessments on private property - similar to what the County has offered to TVCA.
The owners of Tierra Verde properties with the City limits may request City participation in dredging Grand Canal through our special assessment process. Any approved special assessments would apply only to those properties located on Tiera Verde within City limits that can demonstrate benefit from the dredging activities.
The City cannot agree to or reject participation in this project without receiving and evaluating an application from those Tiera Verde properties lying within the City limits.
“My concern is that it will close before dredging can happen”
The county will hold public hearings and residents will vote on assessments before the end of the year.
“We don’t mind paying our fair share. But we feel that it should be equitable for everybody who enjoys the Grand Canal,” said Tierra Verde resident Tammy Parker.
If residents agree to a plan, permits will then be sought from state and federal agencies and the project will have to be put out for bid before any work can start, likely about a year from now.
“Right now the timeline that we’re seeing, my concern is that it will close before the dredging can happen,” said Calvert.
“The canal will close. Our Grand Canal will close. And that will create a financial nightmare for everybody,” said Bouwmeester.
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