Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said the town will support the placement of a natural-gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico across its coveted white sand sources, as long as that sand is removed first.
St. Denis confirmed at a Manatee County Commission land use meeting Thursday, Sept. 3, that if a written agreement is presented before Friday, Sept. 11, the town has no problem with the pipeline.
That written agreement must state that Port Dolphin Energy LLC will help remove the sand and help pay for its removal and the cost to permit the project.
Port Dolphin wants to place a $1 billion pipeline just 28 miles southwest of Tampa Bay near Anna Maria Island, which is right in the middle of a swath of white sand that the town and Manatee County are eyeing for future renourishments.
Port Dolphin, a subsidiary of an Oslo, Norway,-based energy company, is working with the state, according to Manatee County officials, to remove the sand.
“Our argument has always been about losing access to valuable sand for our beaches,” St. Denis said. “If I see a written agreement that states we will get sand before the pipeline is built, the problem has been mitigated.”
Longboat Key has been the most vocal opponent of the project, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for the services of a Washington, D.C.,-based law firm to enter pages of documents into the public record to fight the plan.
Both Longboat Key and Manatee County are in separate discussions with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to obtain an expedited permit to gain access to the sand.
If approved, the expedited permit would shave two years off of a process that typically takes three years, according to Manatee County Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker.
“Our application would literally be put on top of the pile,” Hunsicker said.
For Longboat Key, that means the sand would be available for its beach in 2011, two years ahead of a town-wide renourishment slated for 2013.
But St. Denis pointed out that unless a written agreement is signed between the state and Port Dolphin, the town still has an issue with the project.
The amount of money that Port Dolphin will put up for permitting the sand project and moving the sand is also still unknown. Port Dolphin officials did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
The deadline to submit comments on the pipeline’s project is Friday, Sept. 11, three weeks later than originally planned.
The deadline was extended because the U.S. Coast Guard incorrectly stated that there was nine times more beach-quality sand available in the area than what is really available.
The town, St. Denis said, alerted the Coast Guard to what the Coast Guard called “a mathematical error.”
And St. Denis said he is wary of the much-talked-about solution until he sees something in writing before the governor’s office makes a decision on the project by the end of next week.
However, both Hunsicker and St. Denis agree that if Port Dolphin follows through with its proposal, it affords both communities an opportunity to bring sand to area beaches at a reduced cost.
“We are pleased there is a potential resolution,” St. Denis said. “But we want to make sure there is a strong mechanism in place that requires Port Dolphin to perform.”
Gov. Charlie Crist has until Friday, Sept. 11 to make a decision on the pipeline proposal, and federal officials will make a final decision on the project by Oct. 26.
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