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Date of Issue: June 04, 2008

Pipeline endangers Gulf’s sandy renourishment pits

Five years ago, when Port Dolphin Energy LLC first proposed to install a new natural gas pipeline on the Gulf of Mexico floor, Islanders and most Manatee County residents gave it little concern.

The Norwegian company had indicated the pipe would follow the main channel through Tampa Bay, well away from any critical areas for Islanders and Anna Maria Island.

Thus, it was a bit of a surprise to Manatee County conservation lands management director Charlie Hunsicker when the preliminary environmental impact study released in April showed the pipe passing just off Anna Maria Island’s north end at Bean Point. It is planned to pass through several prime “borrow areas” of sand on the Gulf bottom that the Island and Longboat Key have used in the past for beach renourishment.

Longboat Key town officials were so alarmed they hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to represent them in their opposition to the plan. Approval of the plan must come from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hunsicker has been busy lately gathering signatures and asking for letters of opposition and he found a receptive audience in Anna Maria last week.

He needs municipalities and individuals to write to members of the Florida legislative delegation in Washington, D.C., expressing support for his objections to the proposal.

“The proposed pipeline will have serious drawbacks for Anna Maria, the county and the entire Island,” Hunsicker told the Anna Maria City Commission May 29.

The pipeline would endanger some of the “best beach-compatible sand” known in the Gulf of Mexico, he added.

What’s confusing to him is why Dolphin has been totally reluctant to discuss any relocation.

“We’re not opposed to the pipe. We’re just trying to understand why the pipeline has to be located where it is and why alternative locations were not evaluated.”

Dolphin has indicated it has no intention of altering its plans, Hunsicker noted.

This is a “big deal” for the Island and Anna Maria, he added.

Beach renourishment is paid for with bed tax funds, not property taxes. If the county had to look further west in the Gulf for new borrow pits, the cost could rise as much as an additional $50 million over the next four renourishment cycles.

 That’s money that would have to be found somewhere, he said, because “beach renourishment supports tourism, the protection of our property and possibly our lives,” Hunsicker said.

With a $2.5 billion budget, Dolphin is well prepared to undertake the project.

The only way it can be halted or the pipeline route moved is by congressional action.

“We are only asking Dolphin to look at alternative locations,” emphasized Hunsicker. “We are not opposed to the project,” he reiterated.

But time is short.

Comments about the proposed pipeline must be received by June 10.

In other business, the Anna Maria commission decided to send the issue of making a hotel/motel an allowable use in the commercial district to the planning and zoning board for study and a recommendation. At present, the city’s motels and hotels are non-conforming uses in the R-1 zoning district that have been grand-fathered for usage, but must someday be eliminated.

The commission also adopted new code enforcement fees and approved the first reading of an ordinance recommended by the charter review committee that would require a supermajority vote of the commission to change the land-use element of the comp-plan.


Pipeline opinions:

Letters to elected officials regarding the Dolphin Energy pipeline plan can be addressed to:

  • Mel Martinez, United States Senate, SR-356 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510-0906.
  • Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Senate, SH-716 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510-0913.
  • Vern Buchanan, U.S. House of Representatives, 1516 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515-0913
  • C.W. “Bill” Young, U.S. House of Representatives, 2407 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515-0910.
  • Gus Bilirakis, U.S. House of Representatives, 1630 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515-0909.
  • Kathy Castor, U.S. House of Representatives, 317 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515-0911.