NEW PORT RICHEY — A consultant hired by Pasco County to review its request to extend Ridge Road is urging county officials to rewrite the permit application rather than face another rejection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Washington, D.C.,-based Dawson & Associates, which was hired in February to analyze the massive document, said in a report to Pasco officials last week that its application is "an unmanageable lengthy submittal" that appears to cover the same ground as previous submittals and statements to the corps.
"The size of the submittal, though very thorough, likely contributed to key points being overlooked by the corps," the report summed up.
It recommended the county start over with a concise, streamlined application and shift its focus to emphasize the extension's potential as an evacuation route for west Pasco residents.
Dawson's analysis was an eye-opener to officials.
"I thought we had all the right information," County Administrator Michele Baker said of the findings. "It's good to know we have most of the right information as well. We just didn't do a good job of telling the story."
The county wants to extend Ridge Road from Moon Lake Road east to the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41 to provide another east-west corridor.
Dawson's report notes that while the application references the need for another hurricane evacuation route it does not emphasize that point strongly enough.
As an example, it pointed to Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, which closed portions of State Road 54, one of two key evacuation routes for west Pasco. The other route, 10 miles to the north, is State Road 52.
"Tropical Storm Debby closing SR 54 is one of the most important elements of the alternatives analysis and should be clearly and concisely discussed," the report said.
County commissioners will hear a formal presentation about Dawson's findings at their May 6 board meeting.
The report puts commissioners in a quandary. Millions have been spent the past 13 years in seeking a permit from the corps to move ahead with the project.
Now Dawson is asking commissioners to allow it to rewrite the application at a cost of $38,500 per month.
Commissioner Ted Schrader sounded skeptical about Dawson's analysis and said he's awaiting the firm's presentation before deciding whether more money should be spent on the application, which has also riled environmentalists.
"It's a bit surprising that they say focus on the evacuation route because clearly we've made every effort to point that out," Schrader said. "I want to know why they are so certain at this point in time that that's what the focus should be and why they are so confident that we'll secure the permits."
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.