Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco pressing forward with studies for Ridge Road extension

DADE CITY — Despite the eye-popping cost and the objections of a former regional land manager, county commissioners this week approved up to $1.2 million in extra studies for the long-sought extension to Ridge Road.

The traffic and wildlife studies are in response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is weighing whether to issue a wetland permit for the proposed 8-mile road linking heavily populated west Pasco with the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41 at Connerton.

The corps began reviewing the project in 1998 but essentially asked the county to start over last year. Federal officials argue the county did not fully vet alternatives to the road and that its studies of threatened wildlife in the area are too old.

The biggest complaint from environmentalists? The 2-mile portion that cuts through the 6,500-acre Serenova preserve. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objects to the project in its current form because of potential damage to the tract's wetlands.

At a Wednesday commission meeting, the project drew sharp criticism from Kevin Love, who spent 35 years as the land management director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

"There are a couple of really good reasons why this thing has been going for 15 years and $8 million and we're still at the starting line," he said. "The reason it's taken us so long to get back to the starting line is just it's a bad idea and a bad product."

He added: "By severing one of the county's natural treasures, Serenova, you will irreparably diminish its ecological and hydrologic function."

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker noted that Serenova was once slated for a massive development with thousands of homes. She said the road was planned before the land was preserved as part of the deal to build the Suncoast.

"We have objectors who believe that we should not be putting a road through a preserve," she said. "In my opinion, we have preserved land around a road."

Baker called it the county's "last chance" to build a major east-west highway in addition to State Roads 52 and 54. The county has long argued the road would provide another option for people to move inland during a major storm.

"There is a tremendous need for this road," Baker told commissioners. "I would beg of you to stay the course for the future of Pasco County and for the safety of your residents who live along the coast."

Many in the business community say the road is key to accommodating future growth.

"The notion of not having Ridge Road coming through the county and making this vital connection … is crazy," said engineering consultant Pat Gassaway. "Those that do not think so put the interests of the environment above the interests of the human beings that we are here to serve."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she believes the county can balance environmental concerns with the need for the road.

"My only problem with Ridge Road, it just seems like it's a black hole, a money pit," she said. "We just can't seem to get it going."

Love, the former Swiftmud official, said the road's design would not minimize threats to wildlife.

"All the culverts and all the wildlife underpasses aren't going to solve that," he said. "Most critters aren't going to go under a 300 foot tunnel."

The biggest portion of the additional cost, roughly $514,000, is for updated wildlife studies. Another $216,000 would be spent on traffic studies, and $165,000 would create a mitigation plan to compensate for the road's environmental damage. Baker said she hopes the work can be completed by spring.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to pay for those studies and keep trying for the Ridge Road permit. Though he fears the corps will continue delaying the project, Commissioner Jack Mariano said, "We can clearly show we need another evacuation road."

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

Comments

Updated: 1 hour ago
Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market is scheduled to reopen Tuesday after an electrical fire broke out its dry goods warehouse Friday night.Dominic Horwath, a grocery manager at Mazzaro’s on 22nd Avenue N said staff spent Monday and the weekend...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

After winning Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by the hot Yankees in New York, the Rays face arguably a tougher challenge tonight when they face a sizzling Astros team that just completed a 10-0 roadtrip and has won 11 straight overall.The Rays are ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

LAND O’ LAKES — Lilly Jayska once cried and cowered at the notion of dancing on stage. Now, after four years of classes at Nicole’s Dance Center in Land O’ Lakes, the 10-year-old wants to dance solos. When asked to name her favorite type of dance, he...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tuesday’s letters: Keep programs that fight AIDS

For author Biden, it’s a father’s gift | June 6Keep programs that fight AIDSAfter former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to St. Petersburg, I noticed an article that he co-wrote with former Sen. Bill Frist. It reminded everyone about the ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — The federal government’s search for a home for its new Veterans Administration community outpatient clinic is focusing on the Little Road corridor in west Pasco.Three locations in the running for the VA clinic are identified in the ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

ST. PETERSBURG — Edward White Hospital, closed four years ago because of declining revenues, has been sold to developer Grady Pridgen for $2.7 million.Pridgen could not be reached Monday for comment. City officials said he has submitted plans for rem...
Updated: 3 hours ago