Both the state and city are moving forward this month with major investments at Scipio Creek, with the state set to pour nearly a $1 million in renovating and modernizing the aging structure that houses aquaculture regulators.

In addition, the city last week awarded a nearly $330,000 contract to Poloronis Construction to complete a haul-out facility at the marina, long known by locals as the Mill Pond dating back to the days when a saw mill was located there.

While the two projects have separate funding sources, they are intertwined in that they are two major pieces of what city officials hope will be a revitalized area for preserving and enhancing the struggling seafood industry.

At the Feb. 5 city commission meeting, City Administrator Betty Taylor Webb presented seven bids for constructing the haul-out facility, work to be managed by Baskerville Donovan’s Richard Delp.

She said that since the industry has said a 60-ton lift is what is needed, the base bids for a 50-ton facility would be sufficient. These bids ranged from a high of $581,000 from H.G. Harders & Son, Inc. to Poloronis’ low bid. The only other bid under a half-million dollars was $349,000 from Cathey Construction and Development.

Drawing on millions in federal stimulus money to complete the overall Scipio Creek renovation, Taylor-Webb said that $230,000 has been granted for the portion of the project covered by Poloronis’ bid.  The additional $100,000 that is needed will come from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DOACS), which has plans to modify its original plans for housing its barge at the marina.

Taylor-Webb said DOACS notified the city in late 2010 that the state was planning to turn over the task of conducting oyster shelling to a private company. As a result, the state decided to withdraw about $350,000 it planned to spend to build a new bulkhead for the barge, and fill some wetlands in the area to accommodate the barge’s presence.

Leslie Palmer, who oversees DOACS’ aquaculture program, said the state has rethought the wisdom of holding on to the barge, especially since its longtime skipper, Capt. David Cole, is set to retire at the end of this month.

“We could never hire a marine captain at the price we pay Capt. Cole,” said Palmer. “(Agriculture Commissioner) Adam Putnam believes this is something that private industry can do. The shell belongs to the state, but with a private contractor, you can get more bang for your buck.”

Palmer said the shell, known as cultch, will continue to be owned and managed by the state, but will be handled under the terms of a contract specified by bid. She said this method is in keeping with how other states do it, with the exception of North Carolina.

“It only will change who is doing the work,” she said. “We don’t want this program to cost any more administratively  that it does. The timing is right.

“This is money we have been spending that’s not going to cultch,” Palmer said. “We’ll have less money for salaries and more money towards getting the work done.”

At a meeting last month between Taylor-Webb and Palmer, DOACS told the city that because it would be withdrawing its $350,000 investment, it would make available funds to meet other outstanding needs in the area.

At the Feb. 5 city commission meeting, Taylor-Webb said she had requested about $200,000, about half of that to go towards the shortfall in completing the construction on the haul-out facility.

In addition, she has asked for another $25,000 to help in the removal of three derelict vessels, two in the slips and one on the dock, that have been there for several years.

Taylor-Webb said she hopes an additional $80,000 will be available from the state to buy the boat lift at the completed haul-out facility, which she said could run in the neighborhood of about $120,000.

“This is money set aside anyway,” said Palmer. “We think the marine renovation is a great thing for the city.”

She stressed that both sides are working on a draft contract and that the money must be spent by September 2013.

“She (Taylor-Webb) is very aware that is where the grant ends,” said Palmer. “They (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have told me anything left on the table they’ll take it back.”

Taylor-Webb told commissioners that the Poloronis project should take it about six months to complete, so that it should be done by June 30, 2013.


DOACS to get interior renovation

On Feb. 4, Palmer appeared at the city’s planning and zoning board to outline its plans to renovate the DOACS facility at 260 Seventh Street, just a few hundred feet from the Scipio Creek marina.

“The footprint won’t change, the building’s not expanding, but we’re increasing the lab footprint in the building,” she said. “We want to make it a 21st century building.”

Palmer said the $900,000 project, designed by the JRA Associates architectural firm and to be completed by Tampa’s Nelco Construction, will include additional office space for visiting professors and researchers, as well as a state-of-the-art improvement to the lab’s FDA certified water testing capabilities.

“This thing was envisioned 18 months ago before we knew about the (oyster industry) collapse,” she said. “We do all the shellfish testing for the state. We could do it in Tallahassee, but we think it’s important to keep testing done in Franklin County.”

Palmer said the state plans to add meeting space for the local seafood industry to take advantage of, as well as to shore up the aging space.

“We had a lot of mold and mildew in that building, which is a workplace environmental issue. There’s asbestos in there,” she said. “We’ll do an interior and exterior makeover; the stucco’s been leaking over the years.”

The state plans to re-asphalt the driveway, but Palmer said it would likely not be able to meet P & Z’s request for pervious asphalt, which could cost an additional $40,000 to $50,000.

P & Z members said they were overall pleased that the state would be adding a pitched roof and gutters, but wanted to be sure the storm runoff would be addressed appropriately.

Pictures from the archives, some dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as pictures of the previous oyster lab, will be hung throughout the building. In addition, they’ll be displays of old oyster implements.

“It’s an homage to the history, I kind of like that juxtaposition,” said Palmer. “We hope the industry and the county will be very proud of it, as a resource for dealers and harvesters and for a myriad of researchers.”

Palmer said the project should take about six months, with demolition set to start as early as next week.

Currently, DOACS staff as well as some from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are housed in the former Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve facility in Eastpoint