Dredging proposed to expand land for Port of Tampa Bay

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As Port Tampa Bay seeks a permit to expand its facilities, an environmental watchdog group is expressing concern over the effects it could have on existing wildlife habitats.

The proposed expansion site is located in the East Bay, a body of water located just north of Hillsborough Bay. Port officials said the purpose is to build seven berths for cargo ships.

As one of the region's main economic engines, the port needs to look for ways to keep up with demand and accommodate all the deep-draft vessels that come through.

“It’s really the lifeline of our local economy," said Chris Cooley, the director of environmental affairs for Port Tampa Bay. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the whole picture, considering both sides, before it approves or denies the application for a permit.

In the meantime, the port is taking heat from Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, an environmental nonprofit, which argues construction could be detrimental to marine life.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed construction could affect the west Indian manatee, loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, green sea turtles, and other species of wildlife.

“This is a public waterway. It belongs to you, it belongs to me, it belongs to our kids and grandkids, and our job is to stand up, and speak up, and protect it,” said Andrew Hayslip, the executive director of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

Port officials said they plan to build a 20-acre wetland to mitigate any possible effects the project could cause, but based on their studies, they believe the effects would be minimal.

“There’s no natural habitat remaining," said Cooley. "There's no sea grass, no corals, no natural, hard bottom, or oyster habitat, it’s really a disturbed muddy bottom.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is asking anyone from the public who wants to weigh in on the discussion to contact their local office.

Emails can be sent to Candice Wheelahan at Candice.M.Wheelahan@usace.army.mil, or in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Tampa Permits Section, 10117 Princess Palm Avenue, Suite 120, Tampa, Florida 33610 by March 1, 2019.