DUNEDIN — Good luck finding a supporter here of the state's plan for Honeymoon Island State Park.
Residents are incensed over the surprise proposal to open the popular park, renowned for its natural beaches and wildlife, to overnight camping and recreational vehicles.
"I can just feel the intensity," City Commissioner Dave Carson said. "It's almost like the whole town is vibrating."
A special meeting Thursday at Royal Stewart Arms, a condominium complex close to the park, featured about 50 residents who were "overwhelmingly opposed," commissioners said.
Even more are expected on Tuesday for the state's public hearing on the state parks proposal. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Hale Senior Center, 330 Douglas Ave. in Dunedin.
"We'll be hearing that opposition pretty strongly Tuesday," said Commissioner Julie Scales. Any supporters? "I can count (them) on one hand."
Honeymoon Island is one of 56 state parks targeted for campgrounds, which would be constructed and operated by private contractors. The Honeymoon plan calls for a campground with 45 campsites near the southern beach parking lot.
Residents said they are worried about the potential ecological impact of RVs, generators and crowded campgrounds. Crews would need to move gopher tortoises, cut trees and build stormwater basins to accommodate the campsites, a state Department of Environmental Protection proposal states.
"It's a fragile environment," Scales said. "Considering the impact on the island, I really think it's just a no-brainer."
Also upsetting, residents said, was the lack of prior notice. City leaders said they felt blindsided by the plan, unveiled in early June and scheduled for back-to-back hearings across the state in early July.
"Anything that would be such a drastic change to our island … should at least call for a legislative dialogue, a public forum, at least a contact of city officials," Vice Mayor Ron Barnette said. "The process was shallow, and it reflected some uncritical thinking."
Carson said he has heard a few supporters defending the campsites as good for recreation, and he said he liked that the state was looking for new ways to make money.
But there are ways to do that, he said, without risking the island's preservation.
People "want it to stay as clean, as pristine as it was 200 years ago," Carson said. "We're going to see such an outcry."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.