The main way in and out of Clearwater Harbor is through Little Pass.
The channel got its name because for a time Big Pass was the larger, main route for boaters just to the north of Clearwater Harbor.
But, Big Pass now is the beach land bridge walkers use to get from north Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island.
“Over time (Little Pass) became the primary entrance,” Bill Morris, director of the city’s Marine and Aviation department. “And the (Army Corps of Engineers) has abandoned any plans on reopening it.”
And if not for dredging, Little Pass could face a similar fate.
So, the City Council is expected to approve spending $1 million from reserves to secure equipment and pay the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Clearwater Harbor at its meeting Wednesday.
Because the harbor is not a main shipping channel or large commercial port, it is not eligible for federal money to pay for the work, Morris said.
Morris asked the council for the money to get the project moving before a permit expires in 2012. It took Morris two and half years to get the permit. That was more than 10 years ago.
Morris said although the permit allows for the removal of 30,000 cubic yards. The contract is to remove 70,000 cubic yards. Morris said they are talking with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to find out how much material they can dredge.
Either way, Morris said the depth of the channel should be at least eight and ten feet but it is at five and a half and six feet in some spots.
Council member Paul Gibson has not used the channel since the day a larger boat was coming through and there was not enough room for both to pass.
“And that was three years ago,” he said.
Shallow depths and an expiring permit are not the only reasons to get moving on the project. Special equipment that cuts down on the price to do the work will be in the area as well.
The equipment Morris is vying for, the Currituck, is a special-designed tanker. Its hull is filled with sand vacuumed from the sea floor and can split open spilling the collected material.
It is a cheaper way to dredge, Morris said. A barge with hydraulic equipment, like what was used to dredge the harbor about 10 years ago, cost about $2.5 million, Morris said. Costs for the Currituck are estimated at $754,000.
It just so happens that equipment is scheduled to be in the area in October.
“So using the Currituck is actually the most effective means,” Morris said. “And it just so happens it is going to be in the area (dredging) Long Boat Key.”
Mayor Frank Hibbard wondered why the dredged material, seemingly the bits of Sand Key that are washing away, can not be dumped there. Hibbard said he knows there are issues with permitting and the area probably needs more sand than they are dredging anyway but it is “good clean sand.”
“We ought to be able to put it back on Sand Key,” he said.
Bill Jonson asked about future dredge work, which seems to be needed at least every 10 years.
Morris said he looked into buying a barge and dredge equipment to maintain the channel. It was estimated at about $250,000 about 10 years ago he said.
The IntraCoastal Waterway is a federal project started in the late 1930s. The channel in this area was completed in the 1960s. It widened the entrance to the harbor to 10 feet deep and 150 feet wide and inside channels were made eight feet deep and 100 feet wide.
And it needs constant upkeep.
“If the dredge was not done in 2002, it would be a two foot deep short cut for outboards” Morris said.
If you go:
The City Council at 6 p.m. tonight (April 20) at City Hall.