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Crew gets go-ahead to row their boats

The USF Rowing Crew has cut through the chop and found a place to get their boat in the water.

At a recent hearing, the Hillsborough County Commission made no objection to the RC’s desire to use the Tampa Bypass Canal freely, but the current wasn’t always going its way. Since the conception of Harney Park, which designated the land as federal property, two more layers of red tape were put in front the RC.

“It has been a very difficult — but very interesting — process,” said Chris Paulus, president of the RC. “We’re really excited — everything has been coming together.”

The Tampa Bypass Canal was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the ’70s to prevent flooding in the cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa by diverting water from the Hillsborough River to McKay Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Web site.

The canal represents an optimal place for rowing, according to Paulus. It is sheltered from crosswinds and rowers don’t have to compete with motorized traffic because of a 10-horsepower size restriction. The main drawback of the canal is that it falls 185 meters short of the official 2000-meter collegiate length.

It almost become unusable for rowing when plans to build a bridge were proposed following an inter-modal state grant to the DOT. The bridge, which was proposed as a county project to ease Vandenburg airport traffic, would have extended Sligh Avenue over the canal. The Tampa Bypass Rowing Council, an incorporated entity that includes the RC and other local rowing teams, fought to prevent the construction. An alternative clear-span bridge would have pleased both parties, but was beyond the county’s budget. The project is still on hold, according to Ed Cooley, senior director of operations and public safety for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which supports the proposition.

The Tampa Bypass Rowing Council, which spoke before the Hillsborough County Commission, was created to help give a voice to many fledgling rowing teams in the community that could utilize the canal.

“It’s not just our playground,” said Paulus. “There are plenty of high schools in the area that have rowing programs, including Tampa Catholic and Plant High School.”

The HCC had to approach the Southwest Florida Water Maintenance Department for approval, which Paulus was afraid “wouldn’t exactly bend over backwards for us” after a trailer and two boats were left deteriorating at the site for years by former USF rowers.

Steve Blaschka, a land acquisition manager for the department, said there was no real problem. “We’ve been using the canal for rowing since the late seventies. There just had to be some ground rules, and now that USF has forged ahead and made an agreement for stand-alone use, there is no apprehension. It’s a neat spot and we’re glad to see USF back out there.”

The RC’s equipment has been recently renovated and a new boat was purchased by Student Government for $8000, which Paulus called a “bargain-basement price.”

The team is open to newcomers with any degree of experience. Unlike many USF sports, there are no dues. For more information, e-mail Chris Paulus at