In May 2011, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida cabinet unanimously approved a 50 year lease and dredging of state-owned submerged land to joint applicants Pasco County and Sun West Acquisition Corp.
According to WUSF, permits outline the dredging of a recreational boat channel nearly five miles long and five feet deep that will run through 27-acres of delicate sea-grass beds.
The new channel would separate a planned 313 acre county park from the proposed private development SunWest Harbourtowne, which plans to build a marina with 500 boat slips, 250 hotel rooms, retail space, and up to 2,500 homes.
While the project received the blessings of the Governor and Florida cabinet, there is still the major hurdle of getting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
And if our past history is any indicator, this much needed approval from the Army Corps might take decades to accomplish.
Following the March 3, 1899 passage of the River and Harbor Act, the first known explorations into dredging in the Hudson region of Pasco County began.
According to correspondences from the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, the act authorized a preliminary examination and survey of the bay at Hudson, Florida.
The final report submitted to Congress found improvements inadvisable at the time, and Chief of Engineers, Brig. Gen. John M. Wilson wrote:
“To create a navigable channel of not less than 6 feet in depth at mean low water and bottom width of 60 feet will cost, according to estimates submitted, not less than $200,000.
Surveys indicate an extensive rock reef above the six foot plane which must be crossed, thereby greatly increasing the cost of doing the necessary work of excavation.
When the preliminary examination was made the Division Engineer, Colonel Peter C. Hains, Corps of Engineers, stated that, in his judgment, this locality was not worthy of improvement by the General Government, and the results of the survey confirm this opinion.”
And, while preliminary surveys were completed in 1899, the first formal request from residents for a channel didn’t come until the 1930s as local fishing and sponging businesses grew.
This is when residents retained the pro-bono services of Tampa attorney and Hudson land owner Richard D. Morales.
Morales, with assistance from U.S. Representative J. Harding Peterson, was successful in getting the Rivers and Harbors Committee to adopt a resolution on July 16, 1935 which provided for the re-survey of the Bay at Hudson, Florida.
From there, proponents for the channel project quickly grew, with expressions of support including adopted resolutions of support from both New Port Richey City Council and Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, adopted in October 1935.
But it was going to be a tough row to hoe.
The Rivers and Harbors Committee came to a decision quickly. In December 1935, according to a public notice, Hudson residents received the bad news—their channel project was denied following another unfavorable report by the Army Corps.
However, this didn’t disenfranchise proponents who immediately requested a review of the decision.
By September 1936, after formal review, Army Engineers stood firm with their decision and reported the opinion that the cost of the improvements “would be greater than justified by the minor and local nature of the anticipated benefits.”
Since the Army Corps decision was based on a channel 60 feet wide, by 6 feet deep, and three miles long, residents opted to attempt a reduction in their request—a 30 or 40 foot channel, stretching two miles long from Hudson Spring to the Gulf, via Hudson Creek.
On April 13, 1937, U.S. Representative J. Hardin Peterson successfully introduced H.R. Bill 6354, authorizing and directing the Secretary of War to conduct a preliminary examination and survey of Hudson Creek and the matter was again referred to the Rivers and Harbors Committee, who, on August 26, 1937, made yet another unfavorable report.
In a letter dated April 13, 1938 to attorney Richard Morales, Representative J. Harding Peterson wrote,
“I have already asked for a resolution by the river and harbors committee and will keep pushing on the project. The West coast is developing rapidly.”
But, on April 29, 1938, the news wasn’t good—the committee refused a new review of the reports, stating a year must elapse between each review.
Four days after the one year waiting period, on August 30, 1938, the Senate Committee on Commerce adopted a resolution to review the previous reports on the Bay at Hudson, with a view of determining if the improvement were advisable.
Less than two month later, on October 25, 1939, the Army Corps rendered another unfavorable opinion on the Hudson project but added,
“The principal grounds upon which the adverse conclusions are based are that a survey had been authorized to determine the cost and advisability of improving Pithlachascotee River 7 miles south of the Bay at Hudson, that this river, if improved, would be reasonably sufficient for navigation in the vicinity of Hudson, and that the benefits to be expected from an improvement of Bay at Hudson would be insufficient to justify the cost.”
Perhaps this was the worst determination since the initial request for a channel years prior.
Within five days of the determination, Richard Morales filed an out right appeal against the Army Corps decision.
But, more interesting is what he discovered in reviewing the 1939 report—a favorable review by the District Engineer, but an unfavorable report by the Division Engineer, the latter of which the Army Corps sided with.
This favorable review by the district engineer gave them the in they needed to get the project’s final approval, although it would come for several more years.
Based on the conflicting reports Morales was advised by the Army Corp, to let the project “lie for a while” and then request another review, so he heeded the advice.
Five years later, following passage of the River and Harbor Act on March 2, 1945, residents submitted what would be their final request to the Army Corps.—a revised plan for consideration of a 30-foot-wide channel, six feet deep, and 3 miles long.
In 1949, nearly two decades after residents first petitioned the Army Corps for a channel, Congress adopted the project as recommended in House Document No. 278, Eighty-first Congress, and authorized its prosecution.
The channel was approved.
However, according to a letter written to Congressman George Smathers in 1952, the same Congress failed to appropriate funds for the Hudson channel and the project was at yet another dead standstill, never to come to fruition.
It wasn’t until May 30, 2000, when then Governor Jeb Bush signed a state budget that included $1.08 million to dredge the Hudson Channel, from what is known as Port Hudson, to the Gulf.
Who knows what saga the SunWest Harbourtowne channel project might become?