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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 8, 2009 8 years ago

Pipeline legal fees climb

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The town of Longboat Key and Manatee County are not on the same page as far as Port Dolphin LLC’s proposed natural-gas pipeline is concerned.

Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said he has not had any discussions with the county about its negotiations with the natural-gas pipeline company and state officials to extract sand from a controversial pipeline route before it’s placed on the bottom of the Gulf.

In late June, the county announced it would work with the town of Longboat Key and the Florida
Department of Environmental Protection to extract coveted white sand from a revised pipeline route that runs east and west just two miles north of Anna Maria Island.

Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s director of Conservation Lands Management, told The Longboat Observer in June that the county and the town could extract sand along the pipeline route by 2011.
Placement of the sand could be put on Anna Maria and Longboat Key beaches three years ahead of both the town and the county’s beach-renourishment schedules.

Hunsicker said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is willing to speed up the lengthy permitting and state funding processes for beach-renourishment projects in order to acquire the sand.

And Port Dolphin, Hunsicker said, is expected to share in the cost for studies, permits and construction of the renourishment project.

But all this is news to St. Denis.

“We were not approached by the county regarding this proposal,” said St. Denis, who confirmed the town also never heard back from county officials who promised to broker a June meeting with Port Dolphin and state officials.

St. Denis said there have been talks about potentially extracting the sand from beneath the pipeline route.

“But we are not anywhere near the point where we can say it’s going to work or not,” said St. Denis, who explained that his discussions regarding the concept have been with state officials only.

So, with a federal public hearing for the project slated for July 28, the town is moving forward with its continuing legal costs to a Washington, D.C.,-based law firm that’s already entered pages of documents into the federal public record to fight the pipe’s placement.

Because, unless the town appeals the pipeline’s revised route, the state could approve the project within 45 to 60 days from the date of the hearing, St. Denis said.

At its Monday, July 6 regular meeting, the Town Commission forwarded to its September 14 meeting for second reading a $245,000 budget-transfer request from its contingency fund to pay for continuing legal counsel and engineering review costs.

If approved in September, St. Denis said the town will have spent approximately $545,000 in its defense against the pipeline’s placement.

Commissioner Gene Jaleski voiced his frustration with escalating costs for the pipeline defense with no perceived end in sight.

But the commission unanimously moved the budget transfer forward, when St. Denis explained the continued defense was necessary to fight a proposal by a company that has not been forthcoming about providing its sand resource data to date.

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