Dredging at 10th Street Boat Ramp cited as one factor in delay
Although it is taking him a bit longer than he had anticipated, Capt. Sherman Baldwin of Paradise Boat Tours told The Sarasota News Leader this week that he has been working on the final details necessary to launch his planned ferry service between the City of Sarasota and Bradenton Beach.
During a Jan. 9 telephone interview, Baldwin said he had talked earlier that day with City of Sarasota Parking Manager Mark Lyons about the last steps in the permitting process the Sarasota City Commission agreed to in early 2017. Baldwin added that he hopes to secure the final board approval soon, “and [then] we’re off to the races.”
“I’ve been working on this for four years,” he pointed out about his proposal for a water taxi that would circulate among points on the Southwest Florida coast. He has not been discouraged by the delays, he indicated.
In separate telephone interviews, Baldwin and Chris Johnson, marketing director for the water taxi, said the city’s improvements at the 10th Street Boat Ramp had been part of the reason the start of the service has been on hold.
In February 2017, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin announced that the 25-year-old decking of the docks would be replaced and dredging would be undertaken. As part of the latter initiative, Barwin wrote in one of his weekly newsletters, a large nutrient-separating baffle box for stormwater runoff would be installed in the stormwater system at the intersection of Florida Avenue and 10th Street. “With this in place, it’s expected the amount of silt, pollutants and debris accumulating at the boat basin and in Sarasota Bay will be dramatically reduced, helping to make the Bay healthier for people,” seagrasses and marine life, he noted.
“The dredging will continue through summer and is expected to wrap up in August,” he wrote.
However, the area experienced significant rainfalls in August followed by effects from Hurricane Irma in September.
“That’s going to be wonderful,” Johnson said of the completion of the boat ramp project. The 65-foot, 149-passenger catamaran Baldwin will be using “can get into very shallow water,” Johnson explained. Still, he said, the dredging at the 10th Street Boat Ramp will provide extra security, putting the water taxi “way into the clear” in its maneuvering.
Johnson added that the vessel Baldwin will use is ideally suited to the type of service Baldwin has promised.
“If it was up to us, we would already be running,” Johnson said on Jan. 9.
Lyons told the News Leader in a Jan. 9 email that the work at the boat ramp was expected to be completed this week. However, he indicated that he had did not believe that that would have been a factor in the delay for Baldwin to seek final City Commission approval for the service.
Lyons did note that Baldwin hoped to have his permit application completed within several weeks.
In an Oct. 20, 2017 email responding to a question from City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, Lyons wrote that Baldwin had indicated that he was updating his vessel’s information and captain listings as part of the documentation he would need to complete for the permitting process with the city.
During the Feb. 21, 2017 City Commission meeting, City Attorney Robert Fournier explained that the city’s 2003 water taxi ordinance, under which Baldwin will operate, would need to be revised. Fournier pointed out that he and his staff would work on that while Baldwin addressed other aspects of the water taxi launch.
Plans call for a second catamaran to go into production for the service as soon as the first one has been launched, Johnson said this week. “We’re going to have so much flexibility. … The second vessel is really going to free us up to continue to provide the commuter schedule and the structured rides,” along with accommodating special events.
Baldwin told the City Commission on Feb. 21, 2017 that his initial focus would be on workers and other community residents who would benefit from being able to forgo the drive between the Bradenton Beach/Anna Maria Island area and the city of Sarasota. Tourists using the ferry, he added, “would be icing on the cake.”
An Oct. 19, 2017 news release from the Sarasota Bradenton Ferry Co. noted both a website and a Facebook page had been created to allow the firm “to start interacting with the community” regarding the upcoming launch of the first 149-passenger vessel providing the planned service from the 10th Street Boat Ramp to Anna Maria Island and Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton. The website, www.SarasotaBradentonFerry.com, displays a short survey that the company invites residents and visitors of the Suncoast to take, the release noted. The survey asks how often a person would ride the water taxi and the person’s purpose in such an excursion. For example, among the latter responses one can check are “Commuting,” “Leisure/Sightseeing” and “Beach or Day Trip.”
The Facebook page is located at www.Facebook.com/SarasotaBradentonFerry. As of Jan. 11, the News Leader found, 564 people had liked the page and 611 were following it.
On Jan. 9, Johnson reported that he has been very pleased with the response to the survey. School groups and senior centers, among others, he said, have shown a strong interest in the ferry service.