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Pasco County reckless on wildlife corridor rules

Pasco County commissioners are threatening to turn wildlife protections into roadkill. That is the upshot of a hasty decision last month in which commissioners agreed unanimously to reduce a wildlife corridor on private land poised for development.

The action came despite sentiment from the county's legal counsel that the precedent-setting vote could pave the way for future landowners to also seek to water down the county's environmental rules.

Commissioners can argue that they picked an appropriate measurement. After all, the minimum corridor width settled upon, 1,600 feet, is the approximate equivalent of four times the distance between home plate and the center field wall at Tropicana Field. But more responsible governing would have entailed a delay, or a contingency approval for the development, until commissioners have better information on the science rationalizing the minimum width of 2,200 feet as recommended by their own consultants.

Rational thinking, however, was in short supply. Instead, the commission charged ahead, buckling to threats of litigation and approving the proposal from the Dorsett family, which wants to develop 530 acres in Shady Hills with a more narrow strip of land set aside for wildlife.

What is most distressing about this vote is the repetitive pattern of Pasco County government failing to follow through on promised environmental protections. The policy setting the wildlife corridor stems from a 1999 lawsuit from Pasco County citizens over the controversial rezoning of what is now the Oakstead subdivision in Land O'Lakes. At the time of that rezoning, commissioners discovered they had never enacted an ordinance spelling out the criteria for wildlife studies of undeveloped land as required by their comprehensive land plan.

In settling the lawsuit, the county agreed to the concept of so-called wildlife corridors, paths linking preserved land that would allow animals to travel unencumbered to new habitats as growth encroached on rural land. The commission accepted a consultant's study of the corridors in 2002 and included the provision in the multimillion-dollar rewrite of its comprehensive land use plan four years later.

So what happened? The commission again failed to adopt an ordinance in a timely manner to specify enforcement of an environmental protection. The ordinances giving teeth to the land plan's provisions remain incomplete 10 months after the scheduled due date.

Only Pat Mulieri and Ann Hildebrand remain on the board from 1999. Mulieri, in particular, was critical then of the missing wildlife ordinance, which she used to justify voting against the Oakstead rezoning.

"I'm remiss," she said at the time, ''but why they should go so long without getting this done is incomprehensible.'' The sentiment is relevant again today; only this time, "they'' should be "we.''

Mulieri and the other commissioners are scheduled to meet today in a workshop to talk about an ordinance establishing the corridor rules. Nine years of talk is long enough. It is time to start acting and to enforce the wildlife protections promised to Pasco County citizens.

Pasco County reckless on wildlife corridor rules 10/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:31pm]
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