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BP money may fund wakeboarding park

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Published:   |   Updated: July 2, 2013 at 03:16 PM

ARIPEKA - Pasco commissioners are hoping proceeds from the BP oil spill settlement will help pay for a future wakeboarding park at SunWest.

The SunWest park and controversial channel dredge top a list of potential projects the county will submit to the state Department of Environmental Protection for inclusion for funding. Pasco is one of several coastal counties slated to receive 25 percent of the funds awarded. Counties more directly affected by the 2010 spill will get 75 percent of the total amount.

Last week, commissioners also voted to approve a $132,499 redesign of the wake park that could allow it to proceed without requiring a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It was a big week for Patrick Panakos, who is negotiating with Pasco to build and operate a wake park that could host events such as this week's Red Bull Wake Open, which he helped bring to Tampa.

For the second year in a row, the boat portion will be filmed at SunWest and broadcast nationally on NBC.

"They were extremely happy with the venue last year," Panakos said. "The water is beautiful and the site is very pristine. Right now, it's not developed, so it's just for TV. Eventually, we'll be able to open it up so the fans can come out and watch."

Commissioners picked Panakos' Orlando-based company in late 2011 to design and operate the wake park but the project was delayed while the county attempted to get a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a 60-foot-wide channel that would provide boat access to the Gulf of Mexico. The Corps of Engineers denied the permit, and Pasco County is planning an appeal.

Panakos said the delay hasn't waned his enthusiasm.

"Every time I go out there, I get so excited I just want to explode," he said. "This could be one of the best cable parks in the U.S. For me, it's not frustrating. I'm excited and ready to pull the trigger."

Panakos said his company has stayed busy despite the delays with the SunWest permit. They've installed dozens of cable systems worldwide and designed parks such as "Wake Island" in Sacramento, Calif.; "Terminus" in Atlanta, Ga.; "Cajun X" in Lafayette, La. and "Quest" in Austin, Texas.

At SunWest, the company would also be the park operator.

"It's exciting that we're moving forward," Panakos said. "We have the contract now - we're just reviewing it to make sure we've crossed all our Ts and dotted all our Is."

The SunWest park would include a pair of cable systems for wake boarding. There would also be a high ropes course, zip line and inflatable play area in phase one. "We have enough space to do everything we want," Panakos said.

The redesign also includes a second phase that would include a large boardwalk with shops and restaurants similar to the concept Panakos introduced in 2011 when he first pitched the wake park idea.

The park is expected to cost $4.6 million for the first phase, which also includes the main entrance off U.S. 19, parking and utilities. The county will have $3.4 million available for the project.

"I can say as soon as they have their part in, we can have the cable system installed in three months," Panakos said. "Obviously, we're not going to open until there's parking and utilities."

The second phase would cost another $1.6 million.

The BP funding, if approved, would pay for the park construction, the channel dredge (if permitted), marsh creation, removing exotic and invasive plants, and creating sea grass habitats.

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