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Project near sensitive nature preserve get approval

A state agency has approved a St. Petersburg surgeon's controversial development in Taylor County, despite the opposition of several environmental groups concerned about its effect on the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve.

The Suwannee River Water Management District approved Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt's latest plans for what he's now calling the Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary. The plan calls for building 624 condominium units, an 874-room hotel, 280,000 square feet of commercial space and a golf course. The project would be built in Dekle Beach, where in 1993 a massive tidal surge from the no-name storm killed 10 people and destroyed 57 of the 70 houses.

Pruitt's original plan, known as Magnolia Bay, included a marina and a 7-foot-deep channel 2 miles long and 100 feet wide cut through the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve, the state's largest aquatic preserve and one of the largest stretches of uninterrupted sea grass in North America.

However, that plan ran into strong opposition from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the preserve. So Pruitt came up with a revised project that dropped the marina and channel, added a golf course and changed the name of the development to the Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary. The current plan still requires the destruction of 44 acres of wetlands for the golf course and roads, said Pruitt's environmental consultant, Beverly Birkett of Tampa.

In a letter last week the state Department of Community Affairs expressed continuing concerns about "significant wetlands," sinkholes and springs on the property that could be contaminated by runoff from the golf course. The whole project is "a significant level of urban development in an environmentally sensitive area," an agency official wrote.

But the water district board approved destroying the wetlands by a vote of 7-1. Now the only remaining permit needed is a federal one from the Army Corps of Engineers, Birkett said.

Project near sensitive nature preserve get approval 06/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 5:46pm]

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