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Pinellas legislators will meet to discuss Honeymoon Island camping plan

Now that hundreds of residents and a park advisory committee have urged the state to keep RVs and campers out of Honeymoon Island State Park, Pinellas County's legislative delegation plans to wade into the issue too.

State Rep. Jim Frishe, chairman of the 12-member delegation, announced Thursday that he was calling a special delegation meeting for Thursday at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus. The agenda consists of one item: Honeymoon Island.

"I thought it might be very important for us to face this thing as a unified delegation," said Frishe, R-St. Petersburg. "We want to make sure we're heard."

Several legislators attended Tuesday night's public hearing, which drew hundreds of people. They joined in opposing the plan proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection and supported by Gov. Rick Scott to let private contractors design, build and operate campgrounds — including spaces for recreational vehicles — at Honeymoon Island and up to 56 other parks that currently do not have campsites.

State Sen. Mike Fasano has already written to Scott and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard protesting the Honeymoon Island plan. On Wednesday state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, launched a Facebook page called "Save Honeymoon Island."

"I have created this group in opposition to the planned destruction of Honeymoon Island by allowing camping and RVs," Latvala wrote on the page. "I have lived in Pinellas County for over 30 years and have never seen an issue galvanize individuals on both sides of the aisle as this has."

While individual lawmakers have taken stands on Honeymoon Island, Frishe said, "as a delegation I think our opinion will have more weight."

Honeymoon Island is Florida's most popular state park, attracting 1.1 million visitors last year. It generated $1.6 million in profit for the state, but offers no overnight camping, which is a major revenue source for the DEP.

Honeymoon Island is one of the first of 56 parks where state officials want to add overnight camping sites including space for recreational vehicles. Honeymoon Island could get up to 45 campsites on 17.5 acres east of the southern beach parking lot, under the DEP's plan.

DEP officials pitched the campsite idea and the list of parks where campgrounds could be built at a June 10 meeting of the Acquisition and Restoration Council, an advisory committee made up of state officials and private citizens. Then they pushed ahead with public hearings on Honeymoon Island and three other parks, where the plans all met strong opposition.

After Tuesday's public hearing, a Honeymoon Island State Park advisory committee met and it, too, opposed adding camp sites to the island. If the DEP chooses to push ahead anyway, the ultimate decision could be up to Scott and the Cabinet, according to DEP officials.

.Fast facts

Honeymoon meeting

The Pinellas County legislative delegation is scheduled to meet from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday in the auditorium of St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus, 2465 Drew St. The only item on the agenda is a discussion of allowing private contractors to design, build and operate camp sites, including spaces for recreational vehicles, in Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

Pinellas legislators will meet to discuss Honeymoon Island camping plan 07/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 11:07pm]
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