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$3.5 million meant for Anclote River dredging redirected to panhandle for hurricane relief efforts

Posted at 10:59 AM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 18:07:39-04

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — It’s a big blow for businesses and residents in Tarpon Springs who live and work on the Anclote River.

$3.5 million dollars originally meant to be used for dredging the Anclote River is now being redirected to the Panhandle for Hurricane Michael relief efforts, according to the public information staff at US Representative Gus Bilirakis’ office.

The river, which is used for commercial fishing, sponge diving and other recreational purposes, hasn't been dredged in more than in 25 years.

Now, it will be up to lawmakers to decide if they want to vote on an emergency funding package to allocate money toward the river dredging.

Back in July, when funding was approved for the project, businesses that rely on the river told ABC Action News that the river is so filled with sediment that large boats can't get through and that's impacting hundreds of businesses.

Federal lawmakers are pretty certain they'll be able to fund an emergency funding package, allowing the dredge project to continue, but several businesses are worried.

“The safe navigability of the Anclote River is integral to our economy. Without it, Tarpon Springs collapses,” Athena Tsardoulias, the owner of Tarpon Sponge explained. Her family’s history in Tarpon Springs goes back more than 100 years to when her grandfather was one of the original sponge divers.

Speedy Tostenson, who owns a large shrimp boat, says he can only go out during extremely high tides. "If this continues, we will have no choice but to leave. We won't be able to get into these docks soon. We really need help," he said.

Tarpon Springs leaders spent the day Wednesday drafting an emergency letter to lawmakers in Washington D.C. begging them to find the funding to complete the dredge work. An economic impact study by the city of Tarpon Springs found the Anclote River contributes $252 million to the local economy.