Thursday, November 23, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Chairman's bluster harms own credibility

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Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano overstepped his authority when he sought gubernatorial intervention with federal environmental regulators over the denied permit for channel dredging in Aripeka.

Mariano, in an ill-advised and heavy-handed letter dated Nov. 27 to Gov. Rick Scott, accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff in Jacksonville of having a "personal bias that has continued unabated for 18 months.'' The Corps rejected the dredging permit application in May and Mariano asked Scott to help push an appeal to a separate Corps office in Atlanta.

Absent favorable federal action, Mariano threatened, "our only recourse to get an objective review will be through the courts, an alternative that will certainly stress our limited finances.''

Just one problem: the rest of the commission was unaware of Mariano's unauthorized lobbying as chairman and the county has not threatened litigation because the appellant is a private land owner. Commissioners previously agreed to the appeal only if the cost was borne by SunWest Harbortowne, the proposed upscale community and resort that would share the channel access with an adjacent county park in northwest Pasco.

Mariano had no business going rogue and other board members correctly feared his sledgehammer approach could harm other pending permit applications with the Corps, including for the Ridge Road Extension and for flooding fixes in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in Trinity. Commissioner Ted Schrader called Mariano's actions surprising, bewildering and offensive. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told Mariano, "I think you went way over the line in your first week as chairman.''

Mariano apologized for leaving the rest of the commission in the dark, but not for his ill-tempered sentiments. It's unfortunate. The petulance is a familiar and so far unsuccessful tactic for Mariano and Bob Carpenter of SunWest, who helped compile the letter. Whenever someone disagrees or raises environmental concerns about the proposed 4-mile long channel to the Gulf of Mexico, the objectors are accused of prejudice or ignorance.

And Mariano's own credibility would have been helped if he had been more straightforward with Scott. Mariano told the governor "the project has overwhelming support'' but failed to mention that opponents filed more than 9,000 individual comments and petitions with more than 40,000 signatures asking the Corps to deny the permit application.

Mariano also characterized a dredged channel as the cornerstone of the county's redevelopment. In that regard, his zeal to lure significant private investment to the county's aging western edge is understandable. But he needs a new strategy.

Redeveloping west Pasco shouldn't be synonymous with steamrolling legitimate environmental questions, blindsiding the rest of the commission, and damaging permit applications for more imperative public projects.

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