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Letter pleading for officials to protect Chassahowitzka River comes from ironic source

A six-page letter urging the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect the Chassahowitzka River arrived on the desk of executive director David Moore this week.

It was well written, well researched and fiery enough that at one point the writer apologized for his "rant." And its technical-sounding topic — the setting of the river's "minimum flow" — is actually fairly simple and very important.

The minimum flow is the amount of water a river needs to prevent unacceptable environmental damage, which the district defines as habitat loss of more than 15 percent. In the case of the Chassahowitzka, this means the river can get by with 11 percent less water than its historic average, according to a recommendation from Swiftmud scientists.

Though the Chassahowitzka is in southwestern Citrus County (a very short drive, by the way, if you're looking for a great day out), most of the underground reservoir that feeds it is in Hernando. So are almost all of the planned projects that might one day draw away its flow, including the Quarry Preserve mega-development.

Citing highly credible environmentalists, the writer blasts the fiction that the district can establish when the magic level of 15 percent degradation will occur and that Swiftmud can guarantee the harm will stop at just that point.

Noting the river's dying bankside forests and disappearing beds of eel grass, both blamed on uncontrollable factors such as persistently low rainfall and rising sea levels, the author also asks a very reasonable question: "Why 'pile on' the environmental destruction we already see at Chazz with another 15 percent of 'controllable' habitat loss?"

So who is this writer? That's the good part.

It's Brent Whitley of Spring Lake, vice president of land development for Sierra Properties.

This is the Tampa-based outfit that won the right to turn Hernando's largest remaining chunk of farmland into the 2,800-acre Hickory Hill subdivision.

Sierra says it cares about the environment and, yes, that plan includes some good stuff, such as water reuse. But for profligate consumption, it's hard to beat building three golf courses so none of the extremely rich people expected to buy houses in Hickory Hill will have to wait a minute for a tee time.

You might also know Sierra owned the land for the planned Cypress Creek Town Center in Pasco County and joined in the so-far unsuccessful legal battle to let the developer destroy 54 acres of wetlands.

In my dealings with these folks, I've gotten the feeling they'd develop Yellowstone if they had a chance and try to make you feel lucky they'd left Old Faithful as open space.

Whitley wrote only on his own behalf, which in one way just makes the irony richer. You know how developers make fun of the narrow interests of nearby residents, how they call them "nimbys"? Well, in this case, Whitley is one, identifying himself "as someone who has … owned a house 3 miles down the river for over 20 years."

Boo hoo, I'm tempted to say, and, furthermore, you are one nervy dude.

But as is clear from this minimum flow recommendation, the district has always paid more attention to people like Whitley than to real environmentalists.

So thank you, Mr. Whitley, for your help. The Chassahowitzka needs all it can get.

Letter pleading for officials to protect Chassahowitzka River comes from ironic source 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 5:57pm]
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