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Proposed revisions would weaken environmental protections in county's comprehensive plan

By DeeVon Quirolo, Guest Columnist
Published: September 6, 2017

Hernando County is creating a new comprehensive land-use plan to guide development through 2040.

The draft plan released last fall was well done. It contained goals and strategies to promote compatible land use, sensible transportation planning, needed infrastructure and utilities, sustainable economic activities and impact fees to fund new development.

It addressed the need to protect public health from environmental hazards, protect our groundwater aquifer, conserve water and plan for climate change. It sustained protection for Hernando County's natural resources by promoting energy efficiency, green building, wildlife corridors and a viable Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program.

However, the Hernando County Commission recently directed the Planning Department to revise the draft plan to remove important environmental components we should all support. The map and section on ecological linkages to protect wildlife corridors were removed. The Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program was weakened, following earlier commission efforts to dismantle the program. Energy efficiency standards and green building codes were weakened from "shall" to "may" for public and private buildings, parking, transportation access, public space, architectural standards, construction standards and throughout the plan.

The mining section uses "projected market for resource, analysis of need and impact of jobs" as the criteria for deciding future land-use amendments for new mining. It ignores impacts to residents, businesses, historic sites, endangered species and habitat, except as mitigation to find ways to allow mining. We recommended a ban on new mines, based on lack of need, since reserves at permitted mines exceed demand. Nature tourism is our biggest economic engine, generating 10 times as much as mining, an incompatible activity.

Our earlier comments recommended strengthening the plan to protect Bayfront Health Brooksville from mining encroachment, phase out coal-burning facilities, ban fracking, study the need for a "no discharge zone" for boater sewage in coastal waters and plan a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

Now, simply salvaging critical parts of the first draft is paramount.

A November 2016 report by the University of Florida, state Agricultural Department and 1000 Friends of Florida noted that demand for water will double in the state by 2070 but that compact development, more land preservation and water conservation measures could reduce that trend by 27 percent. County commissioners would be wise to heed this information and abandon recent cuts to the plan that protect our environment, promote smart planning and healthy communities, and establish authority to set parameters for sustainable growth, including a ban on new mines.

While most of us won't wade through the thick draft plan, simply speaking out in support of a land-use plan that protects us into the future can deliver a compelling message. Public meetings on the plan are scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3, Nov. 13 and Dec. 12, and commissioners can be reached any time via email.

The author, DeeVon Quirolo, is writing on behalf of Nature Coast Conservation, the Sierra Club Adventure Coast Committee and Women's March Central Gulf Coast Florida.