MacDill Air Force Base ferry one step closer to fruition


By Janelle Irwin  – Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal

Jun 20, 2018, 2:41pm


The Hillsborough County Commission approved Wednesday the next step in creating ferry service between south county and MacDill Air Force Base. The move launches the next phase of the ferry that will create a timeline for completion, a budget schedule and identify at least two possible sites for a ferry terminal somewhere in south county.

The service would provide alternative transportation for the 18,000 civilian and non-civilian employees at the base.

“The benefits are certainly great for the community and the military down there because they don’t really have any form of alternative transportation other than their car,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman. “For them, mostly enlisted men live in south county because it’s affordable and to get on the [Lee Roy Selmon] Expressway is sometimes not economically available.”

Murman said fares on the ferry would be covered by the federal government.

Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik, who represents the proposed ferry operator, HMS Ferries, also said the service would save MacDill money on its annual operating budget by reducing the amount of security necessary to screen thousands of cars flowing onto base each day at four different entrances. Instead, passengers would enter the base at one dock where screening would be easier without having to ensure vehicles were safe for entry.

“MacDill has incredible queues outside the gates,” Turanchik said. “Cars and buses continue to be a security threat. Security officials believe the ferry reduces the lines through the gates. It helps them immensely with their operational security needs.”

There are still several questions that need to be answered before service can launch. Approval for an on-base dock would require federal approval from the Pentagon. MacDill leadership has tentatively offered its support, but official clearance hasn’t been requested.

The site for an off-base dock in south county also has to be identified and must be both financially and environmentally viable. Two sites so far have been floated including the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve just north of Apollo Beach and the Williams Park boat ramp near Gibsonton. Both sites present environmental challenges including possibly damaging sea grass or injuring manatees, which are prevalent in the area.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacey White said he would not support the Schultz site due to environmental concerns and urged planners to either find a financial path toward securing the Williams Park site or find an alternative.

Wednesday’s vote allocates $170,000 to enter into several studies including dock locations.