WINTER HAVEN – The construction project at Lake Maude Park might finally get underway.

According to a release from the office of U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given the city the go-ahead to begin construction of the first phase of the project. Construction was initially stalled because 0.36 acres of the property was found to be conducive to sand skinks.

“It’s a very lengthy process,” Assistant City Manager T. Michael Stavres said. “We are presently going through that process. We certainly thank Congressman Ross and Congressman (Darren) Soto for their efforts.”

Because of the presence of sand skinks, the city was required to obtain an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the release from Ross’ office, the congressman worked with the agency to help the city obtain the permit. Stavres said construction would be able to get underway for all of the 26-acre property except the 0.36 acres.

“I’m glad that the Fish and Wildlife Service came to understand the importance of this project and that further delays would place it in jeopardy,” Ross said in a statement. “While I’m continuing to work with USFWS to address other projects in my district, this positive outcome shows that we’re making progress.”

The construction for the project is recreational. Once the project is complete, it will feature a main youth sports stadium and two auxiliary fields.

Travis Edwards, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the project was expected to be completed by August of this year before the issue arose. Edwards anticipates the project will now be complete in August of next year — in time for the start of the Winter Haven Wolverines' youth football season.

The City Commission is scheduled to consider construction bids during Monday night’s meeting. The low bid came from Mulligan Constructors, out of Orlando, for $4.4 million.

The problem is that number is about $1.4 million more than the city budgeted for the project. The city would be able to utilize impact fees to make up some of the difference, but about $622,000 would have to come from funds allocated for parking at Sertoma Park.

“I understand the financial situation we’re in,” Commissioner Pete Chichetto said during Wednesday’s agenda review workshop. “I think we seriously need to consider a tax increase to fund the things we’ve committed to the people that we would do. We’ve committed $22 million to do the project at Chain of Lakes. We’ve also committed to fund Sertoma Park.”

Monday’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 451 Third St., NW.

Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.