NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners on Tuesday voted to hire outside help in their quest for a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend Ridge Road.
Commissioners voted unanimously to hire Washington, D.C.-based Dawson & Associates to review the permit application, whether it contains any deficiencies and to assess its chances for approval.
From there, commissioners will decide whether to pursue further efforts to secure the permit to extend the road. The county has sought the corps' blessing for more than 15 years.
"We've spent a lot of time and effort to get this through, so it makes sense to keep trying," Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said of the decision to hire Dawson.
The company will be paid $38,500.
A registered Washington lobbyist, Dawson describes itself on its website as "the nation's premier firm for resolving complex challenges involving federal water resources and environmental regulatory policy and procedures."
County Administrator Michele Baker emphasized that Pasco does not hire lobbyists and that the work Dawson will handle is technical and will be performed by its technical advisory division.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was part of a delegation that recently visited Washington to push legislators to support flood insurance rate relief. While there Starkey talked with representatives from a different lobbying firm, Van Scoyoc Associates Inc., about the Ridge Road project and passed that information along to Baker. Baker, however, said she wanted Dawson for the work.
The corps has stated it wants the county to study alternatives to the Ridge Road extension, such as widening State Roads 54 and 52 to 10 lanes each and extending Tower Road — options the county has rejected.
Officials say that extending Ridge Road will create a needed east-west route — and an evacuation path — from U.S. 19 to Moon Lake Road, where Ridge now ends, to the Suncoast Parkway.