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When Pasco's new coalition speaks, politicians listen

Bill Parsons, founder and president of PACA, says it is investigating Progress Energy’s plans.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Bill Parsons, founder and president of PACA, says it is investigating Progress Energy’s plans.

WESLEY CHAPEL — On the last weekend of April, Bill Parsons sent an e-mail to about 200 people, telling them about an imminent neighborhood meeting at Rushe Middle School, where Progress Energy officials were about to lay out plans to expand power lines through the county.

Parsons would later say he didn't know if anyone acted on his e-mail, but he acknowledged it may have had some effect.

"I'm sure a lot of people found out about it that way," Parsons said.

Here's what happened: In a county where an evening meeting is lucky to get 10 attendees, about 400 people packed the Progress Energy meeting, and the strength of their numbers and voices drew out county commissioners who promised residents they would hold the utility accountable for its plans along State Road 54.

Whether or not Parsons' e-mail had anything to do with it, that meeting also marked the first, even if unintended, example of muscle-flexing by a 1-year-old coalition that Parsons and six friends founded called the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations.

The alliance, which includes 49 homeowner associations and community development districts representing some 60,000 residents across Pasco, has caught the attention of political leaders.

"I think they are definitely a force to be reckoned with," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand. "They represent the new Pasco, if you will, that State Road 54 corridor with new associations and communities that's evolved over the last five to 10 years."

A steady stream of top county officials have made their way to the alliance's monthly meetings, including Commissioners Hildebrand, Jack Mariano, Ted Schrader and Michael Cox, as well as chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker. The fifth commissioner, Pat Mulieri, is due to appear there in August.

"I think the group's a good idea," Mulieri said. "I don't think (a group like that) has to be adversarial. One of the things I always caution these organizations: Don't attack personalities."

CONA, CPC, PACA

County Administrator John Gallagher will be a speaker at the alliance's June meeting. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder is scheduled for July. Sheriff Bob White, Property Appraiser Mike Wells and Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley have also shown up.

"I kind of refer to (PACA) as an emerging power, and a central and east version of CONA," Corley said, referring to an older, west Pasco-based citizens group called the Council of Neighborhood Associations. "When I spoke to (PACA), Lordy, there were probably 65 people in the room."

CONA had an eastern offshoot called CONA-East, which petered out because east side residents felt the group had its agenda too heavily directed from the west. Mulieri said PACA reminded her of the Central Pasco Coalition, a group active in the early 1990s that united to oppose Florida Gas Transmission's proposal to lay gas pipes through the county.

Parsons, a soft-spoken, 62-year-old retired U.S. Air Force man, said barely 20 people showed up at the alliance's initial meetings.

Now, they've run out of space at the Seven Oaks clubhouse and have moved their monthly meetings to the Land O'Lakes Community Center.

"I was pleasantly surprised at the number of attendees they had," Schrader said. "There must have been 80 to 100 people when I was there. They even had representatives from Trilby Trails, large rural subdivisions in the northeast, and older ones like Lake Bernadette."

The alliance counts associations from Meadow Pointe, Oakstead, Ballantrae, Lexington Oaks, Carpenter's Run and Northwood in its midst, and has been reaching westward with others like Pilot Country Estates and Heritage Springs.

But it is still feeling its way forward.

"The board is very careful about jumping into a whole bunch of issues," Parsons said. "We're starting with Progress."

The group has appointed Fred Krauer, who was pivotal in mobilizing residents on the Progress issue, as its government liaison.

Krauer has vowed to look into legal action to stop Progress Energy if necessary, if the utility's plans are out of step with what residents want.

He's been asked by commissioners to act as "a voice for the people" too, on a recent $2-billion proposal by Florida Gas Transmission to expand its gas lines through the state, including Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough counties. Krauer isn't comfortable with the enlarged power lines, but hasn't decided what to do yet.

But for now, as Progress Energy gets ready to announce the route of its lines expansion this week, Krauer and the alliance would have their hands full.

"It would be up to Fred to investigate and determine what course of action PACA should take," Parsons said.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.

When Pasco's new coalition speaks, politicians listen 05/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:35pm]
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