Decades after Pinellas County snatched up 12,400 acres in Pasco County to drill water wells, regional water policies have matured beyond parochialism and the time has come to let the land go to fund more pressing utility needs. An added bonus: The green space would be preserved for future generations.
Today, Pinellas commissioners are scheduled to discuss a pitch from Pasco County to acquire the Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches in north-central Pasco through a standard purchase contract or via another agreement that would preserve the land but expand public access to it. Pasco wants to designate the properties part of a large-scale wildlife corridor while adding trails and bike paths to enhance public access.
Pinellas has no reason to hold on to this land it once needed to supply water. The 17 wellheads on Cross Bar are now owned by the regional supplier, Tampa Bay Water, and the county never did develop Al Bar as a water source. And proceeds from the sale, the county staff is expected to note today, could help whittle a $30 million waiting list of utility projects and other needs.
This proposal has been percolating for more than three years, but a Pinellas commission majority, so far, has been reluctant even to obtain an outside appraisal to determine the properties' value. But Pasco, which would use proceeds from its environmental lands program funded by local sales tax, can't be expected to wait forever.
Pinellas commissioners should signal today they're finally ready to sell to their neighbor and better serve their own constituents in the process.