Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando County's coastal residents guide improvements

HERNANDO BEACH — Narrow, flood-prone roads. A mix of stilt houses and homes hugging the ground. Rows of shrimp boats along the water's edge. Miles of sawgrass dotted with palm trees.

These are the details in the fingerprint of coastal Hernando County.

The unique features, from the limited evacuation routes to the absence of pedestrian walkways, bring a distinct set of challenges to county officials who are charged with providing services in Pine Island, Weeki Wachee, Bayport, Hernando Beach and Aripeka.

In recent years, the county has initiated two very visible improvements.

In late 2007, it spent $1.24 million to improve and expand Bayport Park. And after years of environmental and legal challenges, dredging of the Hernando Beach channel began this fall, a multimillion-dollar project that many hope will spark an economic resurgence for the area.

That is how work has always gotten done in Hernando County's neighborhoods — county projects answering needs. But oftentimes, the priority list was generated at the county government center.

Now community members — those most familiar with their own neighborhoods' flavor and challenges — are in the driver's seat.

In early April, at the request of 30-year resident Fran Baird, the county chose coastal Hernando for the second of its community initiative teams. The first is in south Brooksville, where a team already has a conceptual plan to revitalize the long-forgotten neighborhood through a series of water, sewer, drainage, lighting and transportation projects.

Baird, who has spearheaded a variety of projects in the Hernando Beach area, ranging from the eradication of nonnative Brazilian pepper plants to the painting of the water tower, said she wanted Hernando's coastal communities on the map as well.

"Hey, the west side needs a lot of things," Baird said.

She contacted Commissioner Rose Rocco, and the Coastal Hernando Initiatives Project was born.

Headed up by Rocco and comprised of a small group of local business leaders and residents, the CHIP team has already had some success, such as the lighting of the county boat ramp and turning street lights back on along Shoal Line Boulevard.

Rocco said the effort makes sense. What better way to provide the unique assistance Hernando's coastal communities need than to ask the people who live there?

"If we don't know what the needs are, we can't fix them," Rocco said.

• • •

It didn't take long for members of the initiatives group to brainstorm a list of projects they believe the community needs to enhance safety and improve the quality of life.

On top of the list is an ambitious trail project, dubbed the Nature Coast Boardwalk, that would give pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles access to a portion of the Weekiwachee Preserve.

The group proposes to start by running the boardwalk from the preserve entrance on Shoal Line Boulevard north to Linda Pedersen Park.

"We need a safe walkway through this community," Baird said.

Those kinds of amenities will be especially important when the economy turns around and tourists again begin to open their wallets and seek destinations along the Nature Coast that offer a view of nature, Rocco said.

Officials at the Southwest Florida Water Management District have expressed some environmental concerns about the proposal, but discussions are ongoing.

The group also has proposed emergency lanes on Shoal Line Boulevard because there is no room for a car to pull off the road without landing in the water. Because the space that can be used by the county along the roadway is limited, the committee has also discussed an alternative: 4-foot shoulders such as those on County Road 550.

That project would cost an estimated $362,000 if the road were widened from Calienta Street to Osowaw Boulevard.

A wide network of sidewalks and bike trails is also on the community's wish list. Members of the CHIP group agreed that a sidewalk along Shoal Line from Porpoise Street to Richard Drive, in the Weeki Wachee Gardens area, would be the first priority. Discussions about other locations and funding methods continue.

A paid fire department staff rather than volunteers, more fire hydrants and a fix to Pine Island drainage issues are other items on the list, without concrete plans.

As for the idea of widening and repaving County Road 550 from Shoal Line to Bayport, county staffers have told the group that resurfacing along that stretch is planned, but there is currently no money.

There are plans for paving Cofer Road, near the Mud River, another of the team's priorities.

Future discussions may involve water quality projects and another artificial reef, team members said.

The group is realistic about the chances of getting everything on the wish list, especially since money is tight.

"If we get five out of 10, it's an enhancement to the community," said CHIP member Jim Smith.

• • •

Gathering suggestions for what the coastal communities needed wasn't difficult. Each group member is involved with a number of community projects and organizations, and that allowed them to share their neighbors' concerns.

They assembled their list after establishing priorities: what would make the area safer, more attractive to tourism and business development, and more functional.

County staffers attend the meetings, and County Administrator David Hamilton has visited frequently. They have kept the group grounded in the realities of rules, regulations, existing conditions that can't be changed and ongoing funding challenges, Rocco said.

She is excited about what she sees as the potential of the team's efforts.

"We've got a gem here in Hernando County," Rocco said. "We have it all — the environment, the airport, the Suncoast Parkway — everything we need to attract business. We just have to promote the culture, the atmosphere to make them want to stay here."

By involving community members in the process, "we get buy-in," she said.

That means instead of telling the coastal residents what the county is going to do for them, there is a dialogue.

Team members see that the system allows them to be heard, while giving them the opportunity to remind county officials who their customers are.

"There's power in numbers," said CHIP member Roger Davidson. "It's nice to have more people involved."

Baird said she feels the initiatives team approach allows county officials to connect better with residents.

"I like that we have the county administrator out here listening to what we need. We have the engineer standing right here," Baird said.

County Engineer Charles Mixson said it's been "a learning experience" for both sides.

"Some of the things they have in the plan we were able to get done, and other things are more complicated," Mixson said. "I think it's working very well. It's an open communication."

Rocco agreed.

"This puts the unity back in community," she said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Top three proposals by the Coastal Hernando Initiatives Project

1. Nature Coast boardwalk: Phase 1 would begin at the entrance to the Weekiwachee Preserve and run parallel to Shoal Line up to Linda Pedersen Park. Phase 2 would run from Linda Pedersen Park to Rogers Park west of Weeki Wachee.

2. Emergency lanes for Shoal Line Boulevard: Lanes would begin at County Road 550 and end at Osowaw Boulevard.

3. Sidewalks and trails: Phase 1 would be from Rogers Park to County Road 550. The second phase would run from Hernando Beach South to Osowaw Boulevard. Phase 3 would go from Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards east to the shopping area at Osowaw and U.S. 19. A fourth phase would be a walking path from U.S. 19 at Weeki Wachee Springs to Bayport.

Hernando County's coastal residents guide improvements 12/19/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2009 3:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  2. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  3. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  4. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  5. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]