NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano got an earful at Tuesday's commission meeting after he sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott blasting the Army Corps of Engineers and suggesting that other commissioners felt the way he does.
The note concerned a rejected permit application to dredge a channel at SunWest Park in Aripeka to give Pasco boaters more access to the Gulf of Mexico. The channel would also play a key role in the creation of the county park, as well as a nearby housing development.
"I find it offensive," Commissioner Ted Schrader said of Nov. 25 note, which contains such phrases as "We are confident" and "We reject the Corps' latest assertion."
Schrader, the past commission chairman, argued that using "we," "our" and "us" gave Scott the impression that other commissioners supported Mariano when they weren't even aware he had written to the governor.
"We weren't even cc'd on this," Schrader said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey chimed in: "It's been my experience you can't send out a letter like this without board approval. This is a very strongly worded letter that in my mind really gives it to the Army Corps of Engineers."
Mariano, who was appointed chairman by commissioners two weeks ago, apologized for using "we" and "our" and promised to consult commissioners before sending out future letters.
In rejecting the permit application, the corps said the project would endanger sea grass and wildlife. But the county and a local developer appealed, arguing the project already had the governor's blessing and that the corps failed to follow its own rules.
In his letter, Mariano asked Scott to intervene and request that the appeal be heard out of state, possibly in Atlanta.
Mariano argued that the same corps officials who oversaw the permit's rejection the first time should not be allowed to decide the appeal. The appeal is expected to be heard in the next few months.
"Our experience makes us certain that we cannot get an impartial review of this project in the Jacksonville District," Mariano wrote.
He continued: "The precedent set by this adverse permit decision could have potentially devastating impact to our county efforts on job creation and dramatically cripple federal funding for port expansion projects affecting the Florida economy: an objective view is critical for all Floridians."
But Schrader said the note is so offensive it could tarnish the county and jeopardize efforts to obtain future permits, in particular related to the Ridge Road Extension project.
"We should have come to a consensus on this," he said.
Mariano has written numerous letters to the corps over the past few years seeking approval of the permit. He says Pasco boaters have limited gulf access and that the channel, which is already partially dredged, could provide an economic boost while also benefiting the public.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.