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Wares Creek dredging? Not until 2011 at earliest (with photo gallery)

BRADENTON — Water meanders down Wares Creek, sometimes as a trickle, sometimes bogged down by the muddy bottom, and sometimes blocked with debris dams.

That description also can apply to the progress of a multi-government flood control project, some 25 years in the making, to dredge the four-mile long waterway from near Cortez Road to where it flows into the Manatee River.

Officials had hoped the project might start this year, but because of bureaucratic processes that come with working with the federal government on such a project, the first mud won’t be pumped out of the creek until next year at the earliest.

But with the assistant secretary of the Army expected to sign a “Project Partnership Agreement” by the end of July, it appears to be making some movement toward completion.

Barry Vores, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers office in Jacksonville, said the agreement, which outlines the responsibilities of the more than five government agencies involved, was approved by the Corps’ Atlanta office and was in the final stages of review in Washington, D.C.

Once the agreement is returned to Manatee County, the Board of Commissioners has to approve it. Then the Corps can put the project out for bid, which can take about six months or more.

“As always, the Corps has to follow a deliberate process to ensure the project will be completed with the quality we all expect,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county natural resources department.

There were great expectations about this time last year, after several bureaucratic snags were resolved. Government officials were touting the possibility of the estimated $22 million project getting under way this past spring.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a crucial permit to the Corps in May 2009, and plans for replacing mangroves that have sprouted up in the middle of the creek were worked out.

In June, the county finished negotiations with the owners of the old Bradenton City Hall property, which was needed to store the dredged material to dry out before it can be trucked to the landfill.

The only thing left was the Project Partnership Agreement, which the county attorney’s office was reviewing.

County Assistant Attorney Bill Clague told commissioners last year there were several clauses in the boilerplate contract that needed to be refined to protect the county.

Those changes ended up causing the Corps to add an extra step in the review process.

“We generally use a model agreement,” said Vores, “and if that model agreement is approved by both parties it just goes to Atlanta for review.”

If there are changes to the agreement, such as the ones the county commission made, it has to go to the assistant secretary of the Army for review, he said.

Although residents and some government officials are concerned about the length of time it is taking to get started on the project, Commissioner Joe McClash said he was not surprised at the delay.

“Sometimes people are too optimistic about getting things through the Corps,” McClash said. “In reality, it takes six months to a year to get things through their system.”

Knowing that it takes time for projects to work their way through the federal government, the commissioner said he did not expect to see any work start sooner than a year from now.

“If it happens sooner, I would be happy,” McClash said