Economic Development News
|Martin Commission to take fresh look at dredging St. Lucie Inlet|
|Published Tuesday, April 12, 2011 5:21 pm|
Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi said the commission will invite 10 to 12 experts from the county's marine industries and environmental organizations to offer their opinions on the importance of maintaining the navigation channel in the inlet.
About 10,000 cubic yards of sand per month is flowing into the channel, causing shoaling that makes it difficult for boats to exit and enter the inlet, Ciampi said. The inlet needs to be dredged every four or five years.
"The inlet of course is very important not only to the economy but to the environment of the area," said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
How to pay for the dredging, which is expected to cost $10 million to $15 million, will also be discussed during the meeting at the Blake Library, Ciampi said.
Five county officials traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to ask federal officials and lawmakers to allocate money for the dredging project, among other requests.
However, they were told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' budget is shrinking, so dredging projects at large commercial ports have top priority, Ciampi said.
The Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce has asked the commissioners to conduct a referendum during the 2012 elections on a half-percent sales tax to pay for routine dredging of the inlet and stormwater drainage facilities and maintenance.
However, support for that proposal was not evident during Tuesday's commission meeting.
Ciampi said he was "not sold" on the half-percent sales tax and wants to see whether there are other options to pay to dredge the inlet.
Several members of the public said they support a dedicated funding source to pay for inlet dredging in the future, but stopped short of endorsing the sales tax proposal.
John Hennessee, a civic leader from Port Salerno and the Marine Industries of the Treasure Coast, said the county should come up with the money for routine dredging from a sales tax or property tax.
Crystal Stiles, co-director of the Business Development Board of Martin County, said the routine dredging of the inlet is needed to support marine industries that provide 5,000 jobs and $230 million a year in economic activity.
If the inlet closes, Martin County's marine businesses could start moving to North Carolina, Stiles said.
Some county residents said they think the inlet dredging should be paid for with user taxes on boaters and marine-related businesses that rely on the inlet.
Jacqueline Trancynger, a civic activist from Jensen Beach, suggested increasing the marine fuel tax and boater registration fees, and levying a higher tax rate for waterfront properties.
Henry Copeland, a former commission candidate from Jensen Beach, urged the commissioners to allow the half-percent sales tax for parks and recreation land expire, instead of extending the tax and using the money for dredging and the county's stormwater drainage program.
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