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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Mucky grave shouldn’t wreck park plan

It is important that communities value their heritage, but the suggestion Tampa shouldn’t build a public dock near the remnants of a sunken Civil War blockade runner goes overboard.

A 110-foot dock is planned at Waterworks Park, which the city is developing along the Hillsborough River in Tampa Heights, just north of downtown.

The dock site was selected specifically to avoid disturbing what remains of the “Scottish Chief” steamboat, which is in the muck and too fragile to be moved. It cannot be excavated.

Still, private archaeologist Nicole Morris told the Tribune’s Keith Morelli she worries about the impacts of boats using the area, such as anchors being dropped on the wreck site. Morris’ firm has a contract with the Florida Aquarium, which surveys and maps shipwrecks and archaeological sites.

That is a concern, but one that can be easily addressed by clearly marking the site as off-limits. Moreover, Florida Aquarium CEO Thom Stork says his team is working with the city on signage to inform visitors about the history of the steamboat, which was burned by Union soldiers and then scuttled in 1863.

Stork, whose divers discovered the wreck, supports the city plan.

But Morris also raised concerns about “the effect additional boat traffic may have on both the stern-wheel steamer site and any additional archaeological sites along the Waterworks Park’s riverfront.”

After enduring 151 years of boat traffic in the Hillsborough, we don’t think a few vessels easing their way to the dock represent much of a threat.

And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the city plans to establish that section of the river as a no-wake zone, which should eliminate any concern about damaging high-speed boat wakes.

Buckhorn stresses the dock received the necessary permits. “We’ve done everything possible to ensure there will be no adverse impact.”

If anything, the city should be applauded for making the waterfront park accessible to boaters, who could use more docking facilities.

What shouldn’t be lost in this controversy is that the park will allow families to enjoy a historic and scenic stretch of the Hillsborough River.

And adjacent to the park, the Gonzmart family, owners of the Columbia Restaurant, is developing Ulele restaurant in the city’s old red-brick Water Works building. Work includes restoring the historic structure and cleaning the long-abused and neglected Ulele Springs, which runs from the property into the river.

The Scottish Chief’s mucky grave, to be sure, merits protection. But it shouldn’t disrupt a venture that is likely to generate a new enthusiasm for Tampa’s history and waterfront.

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