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HART takes over Hillsborough ferry expansion project after surprising commissioner decision

"In the end, the county is not a transit agency"
Cross-Bay Ferry
Posted at 3:58 PM, Aug 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-08 18:19:45-04

In a surprising move for many, Hillsborough County Commissioners decided to move the ferry project plan from the county's hands to HART.

The idea has been floating for years -- create a ferry from south Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base.

RELATED: Decision on plans to expand ferry from Hillsborough to MacDill will take more time

Commissioner Sandra Murman made a motion on Wednesday to move the project from the hands of the county to HART because they are a transit agency.

"In the end, the county is not a transit agency," she said, "HART is our transit agency, they receive property tax dollars, they're in a much better position to analyze the facts and research so their board can make, of which we have four members of our board are on their board, make a very important funding decision."

The move shocking several commissioners like Pat Kemp and Kimberly Overman, as well as the ferry project leaders.

"It was just completely out of left field that the county commission said, 'nahhh,' move it to HART, so the question is was this just a money grab," asked Ed Turanchik, legal council for HMS Ferry Services.

He wants to know if commissioners are trying to get the BP oil money, or whether they do just want to have the service in the hands of a transit agency.

"We're being patient, if the county wants to shift it over and HART wants to take it on, and the county is going to provide the funding for it or HART then that's fine," said Turanchik.

It has already taken nearly six years for commissioners to get to this point, so Turanchik says this will add more delays to the project.

For Commissioner Pat Kemp, the idea puts the project "off forever."

Before commissioners on Wednesday, Kemp said, "We know HART doesn't have the resources."

ABC Action News reached out to HART, who would not go on camera but they said this by email.

"HART welcomes the vote of confidence by the Board of County Commissioners to recognize that the people of Hillsborough County are looking for seamless transit options. We have said from the outset that all modes and innovations are on the table for discussion and consideration” said Benjamin T. Limmer, HART CEO. “HART’s mission is to take people to places that enhance their lives. We look forward to understanding how water transportation can fit into a multimodal system that will serve the people of Hillsborough County.”

Commissioner Kimberly Overman said she was surprised by the move on Wednesday.

"HART's a great agency, they have great people, I wouldn't doubt they could step to the plate in organizing this, but how many years has it taken us to get this far?"

Commissioners Les Miller, Stacy White, Sandra Murman and Ken Hagan all voted to transfer the project to HART.