The Bradenton Beach floating dock adjacent to the Historic Bridge Street Pier has been closed since early summer 2012. Plans to repair the dock have been hindered by nature and government bureaucracy, but most of the obstacles to begin repairs may have been overcome.
Email communications between the city of Bradenton Beach and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicate one of the final hurdles that have delayed the city’s floating dock repairs may have been cleared.
The dock adjacent to the Historic Bridge Street Pier shut down early in June 2012 due to damaged dock sections caused by wave action against improperly designed hinges. Plans for repairs were set in motion, but the arrival of Tropical Storm Debby that month ensured the dock’s closure for much longer than expected.
Determining how to counter the design flaw and then assess the damage caused by Debby was the easy part. The challenge for city officials has been negotiating the red tape of bureaucracy.
City officials worked directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for months following Debby to obtain funding for the city’s modified repair plans.
FEMA approved the project and the city then cleared the scope of work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection only to learn DEP no longer reviewed permit applications for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As soon as the city learned of yet another governmental layer of red tape, building official Steve Gilbert sent the corps the necessary paperwork in November.
He said late last year that the city didn’t anticipate any problems with getting corps approval, but a problem did arise after the corps misevaluated the scope of work.
Two months after the city submitted the paperwork to the corps, an email dated Jan. 24 from Caitlin Hoch, of the Tampa Regulatory Field Office, notified the city that the corps would have to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service as part of the city’s permitting review.
Hoch said the consultation would be necessary to study the impacts to the smalltooth sawfish and sea turtles in the area.
Hoch sent the city a checklist of all new information for the city to submit.
“Once the information is received, I will coordinate with NMFS,” she said. “As the request is incomplete, no action will be taken on it until the above requested information is received.”
Hoch went on to write that the city had 30 days to respond or “we will assume you have no further interest in obtaining a Department of the Army permit and the application will be withdrawn.”
Hoch said once withdrawn, the corps would consider it to be “the final action by the Department of the Army.”
Gilbert replied Jan. 25 insisting the corps had misevaluated the city’s intention.
“I’m not certain how this has transitioned from a simple repair project to a full-blown permit,” Gilbert wrote. “This project is for repairs to an existing and permitted floating dock, which proposes to also permanently reduce the size of the already permitted dock.”
Gilbert explained FEMA and DEP have already signed off on the repairs.
“The scope of the project is to bring in a barge, lift each section out of the water; replace damaged floatation cells, and lower them back into the water in the same location,” Gilbert said, while noting three sections have been marked for removal.
“As you can see, this is a simple repair to some sections with no impact to existing seagrass or other habitat,” he said.
Gilbert resubmitted the city’s request.
“Please advise as to your course of action on this project, as we have the funding commitments from FEMA already in place, and there are time constraints on getting the repairs and mitigation done as soon as possible,” he concluded.
Hoch responded later that same day admitting her mistake.
“I talked with my chief and you are correct, there will be no impacts so no reason to coordinate with the National Marine Fisheries Service,” she wrote. “I mistakenly took your simple dock repair for a full in-water work permit. I have written your permit and it is being reviewed right now. I anticipate it being sent out by the end of the week.”
Not over yet
With FEMA and DEP approving the project, and an expected corps approval any day, repairs starting soon are not necessarily a given.
Public frustration over the long-term closure has been mounting for the past few months.
Public works director Tom Woodard noted a spike in complaints beginning in December, but acknowledged they were coming primarily from visitors “who are not up to speed on the project.”
The final obstacle to alleviate public frustration and vindicate the efforts of city staff, who have navigated a proverbial red tape minefield, will be accomplished when FEMA has the funding in place.
FEMA has approved the city’s plan and for all intents and purposes has approved the funding, but has been waiting for DEP and the corps to sign off on the project.
Woodard said in December that as soon as FEMA ends the holding pattern, the city is prepared to begin the repair work.
While FEMA has approved funding, it’s not a guarantee that funding is available. The city will have to first pay for the project and then seek reimbursement from FEMA.
The city wants to ensure funding will be available before proceeding, but there is some concern that Super Storm Sandy’s impact to the Northeast could drain FEMA resources.
An update to the corps approval and FEMA funding could come as early as the city’s next pier team meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at city hall.