Driftwood Key dredge is not yet permitted

HANSVILLE — For nearly five years, the Driftwood Key Club has been pursuing plans and permits for a dredging project in Coon Bay. And during that time, residents have been concerned about the financial and environmental impacts of the project.

Last week, DKC President Bill Buegel unwittingly set off a wave of additional opposition when he asserted the necessary permits have been acquired, and the bidding process was underway.

This is not the case, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Jim Green, who confirmed Monday the Corps has yet to issue its dredging permit, which is key to the project.

“It’s hard to say,” he said of whether or not the permit will be approved. “I don’t like to suggest it even will be issued until it is ready... We have not issued the permit for the dredging and disposal.”

One aspect of the proposed permit is whether or not the project will receive an extension to the environmental window, which was created to limit construction during certain times of the year to protect salmon. Green said he is analyzing what will be feasible in terms of the plan.

The DKC, on the other hand, feels it is ready to begin the next phase of the project despite what the Army Corps of Engineers reports.

“Like I said, we have all of our permits,” Buegel said. He maintains the DKC is in the process of seeking bids for the project. “We’re just waiting on something from the Coast Guard for a piling and for the disposal. We couldn’t get bids without permits.”

Green said the DKC can seek bidding for the project without having all its licenses, but it is risky in case the permits are not issued by the Corps. If the club is willing to take the chance, it can pursue companies for the project.

Several residents in the Hansville community have raised concerns about the dredging project — which would remove 29,000 cubic yards of sediment from the bay’s entrance with a clamshell dredge, lowering the opening to minus 8 feet and the east bay to minus 6 feet — and were frustrated to hear permits had been approved.

“There is a core of us that feel this whole thing, that we’re being Shanghaied,” said Driftwood Key resident Johan Schorer. He has decided to sell his house in the area rather than contend with the DKC any longer. “There are a good number of people on the fence about the final vote.”

He reasoned the DKC asserted it had all its permits because if residents think permits have already been approved, they would also feel they didn’t have a chance to speak up against the project.

“I cannot specifically say why the club would misrepresent the dredge permit status,” said Driftwood Key resident Sharon Feola. “When the east bay was added on to the routine channel maintenance, community input and detailed information seemed to stop. Dredge planning and finances are handled by member volunteers, which could make the project vulnerable to the influence of a special interest group.”

She said about 100 residents in the community have not paid their community club dues and don’t wish to. Members’ dues were raised in 2004 from $222 to $370 to help pay for the $800,000 project.

Driftwood Key resident Colleen Smith said she found through her research deeds for the area make no mention of a shared common space, any requirement of members having to pay to maintain it or even that residents must be members of the Driftwood Key Club.

“According to what I have found in my research at the court house and recent court rulings and limitations (architectural control only) put on Driftwood Key Club on my property (covenant), I am convinced there isn’t any obligation to pay for any club assessments,” she said.

Schorer claimed the DKC has not been forthcoming with information about the project and permits, licenses and financing needed, even calling into question the $800,000 budget. He also referenced an April 26, 2007 National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration report about the planned dredging raising environmental impact concerns of the plan.

“I would guess there’s some feeling of inequity,” he said. “The houses abutting the water belong to about 40 landowners, and lots of us, about 500, pay dues. Significantly less than 10 percent get the benefit and all the rest of us lose.”

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