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EPA gives green light to Cypress Creek Town Center

WESLEY CHAPEL — The proposed Cypress Creek Town Center scored another victory as federal regulators declined to stop the project after a Tampa congresswoman asked them to review it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "does not consider the project's impact sufficient to require restrictions … and believes that the requirements of the … permit and the storm water permits are protective of Cypress Creek and the adjacent wetlands at this location," acting administrator A. Stanley Meiburg wrote to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor last month.

The EPA began reviewing the proposed Wesley Chapel mall in September after Castor requested it, expressing concerns that it might harm the adjacent creek, a federally protected waterway that feeds Tampa's drinking water supply.

The proposed 1 million-square-foot mall is being developed by the Richard E. Jacobs Group of Cleveland and Sierra Properties of Tampa. Developers have said that when all phases are complete, Cypress Creek Town Center is expected to provide more than 3,800 full-time jobs, more than 1,000 construction jobs, annual revenue of $6 million for Pasco County and $2.4 million for the Pasco County school district.

The project has been dogged by environmental issues from the beginning.

In February 2008, plans were put on hold for 18 months when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the mall's permit after muddy water flowed into Cypress Creek.

The corps reinstated the permit on Sept. 4 after the developers agreed to a $297,000 fine for violating the Clean Water Act. The corps' reinstatement of the permit prompted Castor, who had criticized the project as a Hillsborough County commissioner, to ask the EPA to intervene.

In its letter to Castor, the EPA agreed with the corps' findings and said human error and bad timing, rather than the project's design, caused the discharge into the creek. It mentioned that developers have complied with mitigation requirements and have built a berm to separate the site from natural areas.

The Sierra Club also has sued the corps over its decision to issue the permit, and Kearney Construction LLC, which did earthwork for the mall and later filed for bankruptcy, has sued the developers over $1.6 million it says it is owed for work after changes were put in place to protect Cypress Creek.

Those cases are pending. The Sierra Club recently asked for a judge to rule in its favor without a trial. That motion is pending.

Castor's aides could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"We are pleased that the U.S. EPA's review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering's wetland permit indicated that the Corps acted properly with their thorough review of the project," mall spokeswoman Deanne Roberts said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Developers already spent $21 million widening State Road 54 between I-75 and U.S. 41 and soon will choose a contractor to extend County Road 54 through the mall site.

"This action further demonstrates our commitment to this important retail center," Roberts said.

EPA gives green light to Cypress Creek Town Center 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 8:51pm]
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