Sunday, April 22, 2018
Transportation

Brooksville's interests seem to be goal of U.S. 41 rerouting plan

Trust me, I tried.

When Brooksville engineer Cliff Manuel introduced a plan to reroute U.S. 41 away from downtown Brooksville, I did what reporters are hard-wired to do in such circumstances — check property records to see who might see a windfall in the form of a sudden bump in land values.

Mostly, I found, the proposed route just east of downtown passes through public property, including an abandoned Brooksville Housing Authority apartment complex.

There is a parcel near the highway's path on Mondon Hill Road owned by WWJB radio's parent company, which in turn is owned by Brooksville big shots Bruce Snow and Jim Kimbrough. But it's only 3 acres and is already the site of a broadcast tower; I don't see the owners making a killing off a new road.

So, I've concluded that Manuel's idea — touted as a way to take high-speed traffic out of downtown Brooksville — was done for that reason and that reason only.

I think he really does want to help rid the city of a layout that's been snuffing life out of downtown for 20 years.

I believe, in other words, that Manuel is sincere.

Why would there be any question?

Well, we could go way back to the days when Manuel's father, Gene, ran the family firm, Coastal Engineering Associates, and rehash all the ways it managed to cash in while supposedly working in the public's interest. But that's getting to be a long, long time ago now.

It was on Cliff Manuel's watch, however, in the mid 1990s, that Brooksville elected a City Council that called itself pro-business, but mostly seemed to be pro-Coastal.

The company got all of the city's major jobs during that era and was allowed to develop an unbeatable business plan: Get paid to recommend work as a city consultant, get paid again for designing that work and maybe get paid again to design private projects encouraged by the expanded infrastructure.

That's been a while ago, too, but more recently, Manuel worked for development projects — especially the misbegotten Quarry Preserve — that had the potential to hurt the city.

He wouldn't say that's the case and doesn't believe he's received fair treatment from this newspaper, which I don't think is true. He's also said a lot has changed over the years, which no doubt is true.

City and county engineering contracts are spread out a lot more evenly than they once were.

And maybe Manuel has changed some, too.

I don't know of anyone who has worked harder to revive downtown Brooksville in the past few years. He helped get the city's Florida Blueberry Festival up and running. He has put in time as a member of the Brooksville Vision Foundation and more recently as its chairman. He also was the one who finally got the foundation working on a worthwhile and long-overdue project — restoring the two-way streets downtown.

The only self-interest I see here is the best kind — building a more attractive and marketable community.

Yes, it's easier to take this approach when the building business is slow and Manuel isn't under the strain of balancing the city's interests with those of his clients. It's also occurred to me that coming up with the idea of rerouting U.S. 41 might put him on the inside track for some future work.

We'll keep an eye on all that. Trust me.

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