The end of an environmental challenge to the potential site for a large-scale, high-wage employer in central Pasco shouldn't end county government's attention to the environmental advocacy from Citizens for Sanity. While commissioners, state lawmakers and county administrators breathed a collective sigh of relief after clearing a roadblock to luring T. Rowe Price to a site along State Road 54, they also should take stock in the level of frustration that motivated the challenge.
Citizens' Clay Colson focused much of the fight on the size of a wetland on the targeted site, but a list of unfulfilled settlement demands from the group presented to the county previously is more relevant because it included items that have been in limbo for a decade. Most notably, the group made the reasonable request of Pasco County to abide its wildlife corridor designations and to establish wildlife-protection ordinances.
It's the same issue that's been bouncing around the government center for a decade, ever since Citizens for Sanity sued the county over the rezoning of land that is now home to the Oakstead subdivision in Land O'Lakes. At the time of that 1999 rezoning, commissioners discovered they had never enacted an ordinance spelling out criteria for wildlife studies of undeveloped land as its comprehensive land plan mandated. In settling the suit, the county agreed to the concept of wildlife corridors — paths linking preserved land to allow animals to travel to new habitats — and included the provision in the rewrite of the land plan. However, the commission has yet to adopt an enacting ordinance to enforce the rules.
In the meantime, following the protections has been arbitrary. A consultant and the county's biologist have advocated wildlife corridors at a minimum width of 2,200 feet, but commissioners rejected that argument last fall without hearing the scientific rationalization for the standard. Instead, they allowed the developer of a proposed project in Shady Hills to reduce the corridor to as little as 100 feet, a decision later overturned by the Department of Community Affairs. No wonder environmentalists are trying to jump-start county activity.
We do not agree with all of the Citizens for Sanity agenda and its attempt to scuttle an unrelated economic development proposal as a way to leverage its positions elsewhere damaged its credibility. The group, the public faces of which are just two men, Colson and Dan Rametta, bills itself as slow-growth advocates. But the T. Rowe Price project is intended to help the county combat its bedroom community identity that promotes sprawl, traffic congestion, lost productivity and an overreliance on construction and service industry jobs to support the economy. The expensive deal that includes $30 million worth of incentives is supposed to bring more than 400 jobs to Pasco at the outset and 1,200 more over the next decade. Citizens should embrace the idea of getting people a better opportunity to work closer to home.
The county's economic recruiting dodged a bullet on this one because the underfunded Citizens for Sanity does not have the ability to finance protracted litigation or to absorb assessed legal costs if unsuccessful.
But that doesn't invalidate portions of the group's environmental agenda and the commission shouldn't give it short shrift. It is foolish to wait for yet more litigation before completing promised protections for wildlife.