Local

Manatee’s most popular boat ramp is in bad shape, officials say. A replacement is coming

The most popular boat ramp in the county isn’t in great shape.

A series of emergency repairs led county officials to discover that the Kingfish Boat Ramp is dealing with “severe structural deficiencies.” It’s a big problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of natural parks and resources.

“In the course of investigating repairs needed for the Kingfish Boat Ramp, we’ve found that the ramp requires emergency and long-term repairs,” Hunsicker said.

Thankfully, there’s enough funding available for a complete renovation and expansion that won’t cost Manatee County a dime.

Hunsicker asked county commissioners Tuesday to approve a motion that would allow his staff to request a re-prioritization of projects funded by the Gulf Consortium. The organization is responsible for allocating funds paid by BP to “enhance environmental resilience” after the Deepwater Horizon Spill.

The $4.5 million project will consist of a complete reconstruction and expansion of the boat ramp, according to a preliminary report from county staff. That includes an upgrade to four individual lanes that will each be separated by a finger dock and a resurfacing of the parking lot for better stormwater runoff and maintenance.

Commissioner Betsy Benac said the project is timely, given losses that local fishermen suffered at the hands of a persistent red tide bloom.

“Our fishermen are the ones affected by red tide the most and we need to look out for them,” she said.

But changes to the order of county funding from the Gulf Consortium means other projects get pushed back, namely, the renovation of the Green Bridge Fishing Pier, which is also in dire need of a replacement.

“The dead weight for the concrete on the bridge, even without loading it with people, under gravity will collapse sooner than we’d like for that bridge to hold up,” Hunsicker explained.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh wondered if pushing back that project was a good idea, given the 70-year-old pier’s poor health.

Hunsicker assured board members that the bridge could stand to be put off a bit longer. The Gulf Consortium’s state expenditure plan noted that the pier “needs to be decommissioned and demolished by 2022” because of liability concerns. The county’s current plan is to begin demolition and construction in fiscal year 2023.

Another one of the side effects of deciding to redirect funding to the Kingfish Boat Ramp is that two other projects will no longer be funded by Gulf Consortium money. Money dedicated to preserve management and coastal watershed management plans will no longer come from that pot, but Commissioner Carol Whitmore and Hunsicker agreed that the county could pay for those with additional resources.

Commissioners unanimously approved the motion. If approved by the Gulf Consortium, engineering and design of the new boat ramp would begin in fiscal year 2019, with construction completed by fiscal year 2021.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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