Floating docks sought to accommodate special-needs visitors at aquarium

CLEARWATER — The city's marine and aviation director is proposing to replace 14 of the existing 43 city-owned boat slips behind Clearwater Marine Aquarium with a 200-foot floating dock system to be used by boaters making day trips.
The new system also is better designed, according to Bill Morris, to accommodate special-needs visitors who travel by boat to the Island Estates aquarium and marine animal hospital. The existing docks primarily are used for private recreational crafts and offer no provisions for special-needs boaters.
Morris told the city council during its Monday work session that the project would cost about $112,600. He also said that three local businesses — Clearwater Marine Aquarium; Florida West Coast Cruises, which operates the Sea Life Safari Boat Tour from the aquarium and the municipal marina and the downtown marina, and Bay Star Restaurant Group, which owns Island Way Grill next to the aquarium — have committed to partially funding the venture.
Those three groups and the city's $8,000 in in-kind services, paid for by general fund dollars, would account for almost $69,000 toward the project.
Morris needs permission from the city council to apply for a boating improvement grant through the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to offset the cost of purchasing the floating dock, estimated at $43,600.
Meanwhile, the director also has obtained all necessary construction and environmental permits from the Army Corp of Engineers and the state Environmental Protection Agency to construct the floating dock.
The intent of the new system, Morris explained, is to provide an alternative to driving to the aquarium by car. In addition, aquarium guests or workers could be dropped off and picked up by boat.
If the state grant isn't awarded, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson suggested to Morris, “Get your Rolodex out and start dialing.”
The city council will continue the discussion and vote on whether to allow Morris to apply for the state grant when it meets at 6 tonight in its chambers at city hall, 112 S. Osceola Ave.
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