Advocates for the high-speed ferry project in Hillsborough County met with officials with the Fish & Wildlife Department last week about that agency's concerns regarding manatees. The "pre-application" meeting also involved officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies that will ultimately have to provide permits to allow the public-private partnership to go forward, which would create ferry service from Gibsonton in South Hillsborough to MacDill Air Force Base, and ultimately to additional stops in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.
"We've always understood that we don't want to impact manatees and we've always been confident in our abilities to do it," said Ed Turanchik on Tuesday. Turanchik is with the Tampa law firm of Akerman LLP that is representing HMS Ferries, the main private company working to bring the project to fruition.
"We talked about a variety of scenarios and operating conditions that could do it and they said 'we'll need to talk about that when we get into process' and that was it. There was nothing particularly new or surprising or unmanageable," Turanchik added. Among the ways that he says the project can address the issue of protecting manatees is by using shallow draft boats with jet drives and slowing speeds in those designated areas. That will have to match up with data such has manatee travel patterns and where the animals tend to be located.
As CL reported on Monday, Turanchik had been scheduled to appear at the beginning of HART's monthly board meeting. But HART CEO Katharine Eagan said there had been some "issues" with environmental agencies that precluded him from appearing. Turanchik said that wasn't the case; he said he had been in discussions with County officials who told him that it would be best to make a presentation before the Transportation Leadership Group (also known as the transportation and economic development group) at their next scheduled meeting.
Turanchik said his meetings with government agencies have been moving smoothly and at a rapid pace, which he attributes in part to the fact that HMS has an extensive history in working on such projects. He says he's hoping that the proposal will be given the okay to address issues with design engineering and permitting.