Pasco commissioners are correct to step away from the planned dredging of a 4-mile channel to the Gulf of Mexico, but they risk bowing to short-sighted parochialism if they fail to develop fully a county-owned park on the adjoining property.
On a pair of 4-1 votes last week, the commission, with Jack Mariano dissenting both times, abandoned an appeal for a federal dredging permit, saying a private developer, if it chooses, can continue the effort with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It's a wise decision. The corps' recent rejection of the permit application, filed jointly by the county and the proposed SunWest Harbourtowne resort, left little doubt that regulators believe environmental damage to sea grass beds would outweigh any recreational/economic benefits from a new channel.
But, the board also imprudently voted to delay a relatively simple purchase order to redesign the county park abutting the proposed channel. The redesign of the parking lot and drainage will ease the impact on wetlands while bringing the beneficial byproduct of adding beach area for the park.
The commission foot-dragging came after email objections from Trinity-area residents lobbying for sports fields in their vicinity. The inaction is indicative of the commission's continued piecemeal approach to parks, recreation and sports tourism development that is too frequently guided by provincialism.
The county currently has $4.1 million for the SunWest park and additional dollars banked from its tourist tax. The estimated cost to build both phases of the park is approximately $6 million though a firm figure won't be known until the design work is completed. Instead of finding out the true cost by authorizing the redesign, commissioners raised irrational concerns that the beach park would dip into $7 million in impact fee money escrowed for a new park in west Pasco.
Certainly, the Odessa/Trinity area has been underserved by the county parks network and tentative plans now call for a multifield sports-related complex on the Starkey Ranch property scheduled for development. But shortchanging the waterfront park would be a disservice to county residents who have long complained about limited beach access. It also could dampen the county's own tourism effort to attract visitors to a planned wakeboard attraction at SunWest. Additionally, the second phase of the beach park is intended to include some small-scale commercial development to help offset park operating costs.
Commissioners looking out for the interests of all residents should authorize the redesign of the entire SunWest park. Then they should put their calculators to use to ensure money is available to build it in a timely fashion while preserving impact fee money for a district sports park to serve southwest Pasco.