Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Boat ramps will damage C-24 canal, Port St. Lucie residents say

PORT ST. LUCIE — Outspoken residents — armed with an environmental study they won't share with the city — are turning a $2 million plan to build boat ramps on the C-24 canal into a political debate.

Port St. Lucie has 6,000 registered boaters but just one boat launch. Every recent recreation survey has shown that residents want more ocean access, so the City Council decided earlier this year to plan a boat launch park on the canal, just west of Southbend Boulevard.

At a September meeting about the plan, Parks Director Chuck Proulx said 72 percent of residents who gave comments supported building boat ramps at the eight-acre canal site.
But a handful of neighbors say the plan is going to cause environmental damage to the canal and wetlands on the site. Given the complaints, Proulx is demanding City Council members either support or scrap the plan.

"I do not wish to waste further engineering costs, staff time and public consternation if politically this is not a project the City will pursue," Proulx wrote to City Manager Don Cooper on Monday.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the park at its regular meeting Dec. 4.

The city has a $60,000-plus contract with American Consulting Engineers to design the boat ramps and has spent about one-third of the money. A draft study the firm did in July said the wetlands on the eight-acre site were of poor quality and wouldn't be hurt significantly by the ramps.

Another study — paid for by residents near the canal — reached the opposite conclusion.
Led by Christy Church, the anti-ramp residents hired local consultant Mark Youmans to study the canal site and critique the city's study. Youman concluded ramps could hurt the wetlands and that the American Consulting Engineers study was biased in favor of the city.

"Many factors of the surrounding hydrological environment were completely ignored," the critique said.

Church showed Youmans' study to city officials and council members, but said her fellow residents did not want to give the city a copy.

"We paid with our taxpayer dollars (for the American Consulting study), and now our own... We paid good money for it," she said, adding she didn't feel comfortable giving out copies without asking her neighbors again.

Proulx said if the city had a copy he would take it to American Consulting Engineers to review.
"If they have valid information, we need to take it and adjust our plan accordingly," he said.
If City Council decides to pursue the canal boat launch — potentially two ramps and parking for as many as 90 trailers — getting permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers could take years, Proulx said. Building would take about nine months, however, the city still must find the $2 million to pay for the project.

If council members scrap the canal ramps, the city has just a couple other locations where boat launches could be built, including another site off Southbend Boulevard.

• Eight-acre boat launch facility on the C-24 canal west of Southbend Boulevard.
• Two ramps, 60-90 trailer spaces, at a cost of about $2 million.
• Residents opposing the site paid for their own environmental study, which contradicts the city's study.
• City Council will discuss whether to continue the project at its meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 in City Hall. '

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