Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raises objections to SunWest channel

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dealt a blow to the proposed 4-mile channel at the SunWest property in Aripeka.

In a letter dated May 16, the agency said it plans to recommend denial of the project unless the county narrows the channel or finds extra mitigation to offset damage to 28 acres of seagrass.

"General environmental concerns and impacts to fish and wildlife weigh in favor of finding the proposal contrary to the public interest," the Corps letter says.

The proposal is to dredge a channel that is 62 feet wide. The expanded channel would be shared by boaters launching from a future county park and residents of a proposed 2,500-home luxury development called SunWest Harbourtowne. The county park would provide access to the gulf via seven boat ramps and 250 boat parking spaces.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has criticized the county's mitigation strategy, saying the efforts would have a "fairly high chance of failure."

The Corps did provide the county some options, though. It said the county could reduce the channel width to 45-50 feet, roughly the size of the Hudson channel.

Commissioner Jack Mariano, who has been a staunch supporter of the SunWest project, said he isn't willing reduce it that much. He says he gets complaints that the Hudson channel is so narrow that it's unsafe.

The other Corps option: Reducing the width to 60 feet and finding another four or five acres of seagrass mitigation.

Going to 60 feet isn't a problem. Finding the extra mitigation, Mariano said, "is the issue."

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said the county has 30 days to respond to the letter and is weighing its options. She said she is concerned the Corps has not given the county enough credit for the mitigation it has already offered.

"If we go find more mitigation, will that really get us there?" she asked.

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