With the go ahead from the Gulfport City Council, City Manager James O'Reilly will move forward with the permitting process for a mooring field in Boca Ciega Bay. Following a long discussion, Mr. O'Reilly agreed to proceed with the process at a cost of approximately $25,000 to the city.
The mooring field proposal has been discussed and debated at several meetings the past two months with much public input at the meetings, most speaking in favor of it. The city first began the permitting process with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) several years ago and as part of the process the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers would grant approval or denial as well.
Five residents spoke in favor of the mooring field proposal at Thursday's workshop including former vice-mayor Bob Worthington.
“I applaud the council for bringing that back. It's been something that's been very necessary for Gulfport and the control of our environment along the beach and in the bay,” he said, connecting a mooring field with better enforcement of boating regulations. “I think the good boaters of this area also applaud you because it takes away from a lot of their monies that would be going to boating projects. When one of these [derelict] boats has to be removed it takes boating money away and it takes our marina money away and that hurts all good boaters.”
Resident Al Davis encouraged the council to see an active mooring field for themselves in order to make their decision and not base it on the advice of others.
“Whatever your decision is please base it on fact, and consider the economics and consider the best for Gulfport, not just the warm noses that are in the room at the time of the decision.”
Council Member Jennifer Salmon asked to have a walk-through of the map of the footprint of the field in relation to the public beach.
Andy Nicholson, consulting engineer of the mooring field project, pointed to the map and explained that distances between the field and the beach range from 590' to 642' to 686' at various points on the west side closest to the Casino.
“We are putting perimeter buoys here to control the traffic and provide a bigger protection area,” Mr. Nicholson said, pointing to the eastern side of the Casino pier. “This is all going to be a very slow speed area and this is all a safe zone for critters. Although there's not a large activity of the mammals (manatees) here we're still giving them an extra level of protection they don't have today.”
Mr. O'Reilly pointed out that the distances are important as it is a designated manatee habitat and that after four attempts in the past seven years the permitting process must move forward in order to see if the mooring field can in fact be approved by the various agencies.
“Not to be blunt with you, but we're here,” he said. “We're here for the fourth time, and I'd like to poll you and ask you if that's something you'd like to move forward [with].”
Mayor Michael Yakes noted that the footprint of the mooring field plans have been moved west over the years to accommodate an acceptable location, to be sensitive to the environment and considerate of access to the business district.
“It has been around a long time, I think we've got to do what you said,” Mayor Yakes agreed. “Let's do this.”
“I agree,” said Council Member Barbara Banno, confirming that Mr. O'Reilly wishes to move forward with the current proposal rather than continue to debate it or make adjustments. “I think it's a step in the right direction. I think it's good for the community... I think it kind of puts us on the map a little bit.”
“Let us go to the FDEP because I think what would happen is, I think we'd get bound up in the what if? That's what I would rather not do,” Mr. O'Reilly responded. “If we get caught in the what ifs, we could be redesigning [the project] completely. I think we need to be able to just go use our best judgment as a staff. They'll come back and you'll either accept their permit if they offer you one or you won't.”
Vice Mayor David Hastings asked for confirmation that $25,000 is the estimate to get the project to the point of an approval or denial with the FDEP and Mr. O'Reilly confirmed it was.
“I'm willing to front that money because I think the ultimate goal if we could end up with something like that, would be a positive for the city,” Mr. Hastings said.
“I'll probably be the oddball out, and I do think that mooring fields are environmentally friendly,” said Council Member Sam Henderson, satisfied with the layout and the aesthetics of the plan. “My issue is economics in a year we're talking about who are we going to lay off, we're talking about raising utility rates... It seems like a luxury item and I don't think it's a good time to do it. That's my personal opinion.”
At that point Mayor Yakes concluded the discussion with a majority in agreement to allow the city manager to proceed with the permitting process with the FDEP at a cost of $25,000 taken from the Gulfport Marina Fund.