Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Editorials

Plan for new channel deserves close scrutiny

Commissioner Jack Mariano should curb his petulance toward federal reviewers of a planned wider, longer channel linking the Gulf of Mexico to a future county park and the proposed SunWest Harbourtowne resort in northwest Pasco.

Last month, Mariano signed a rhetoric-filled 14-page letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accusing a separate federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, of sabotaging the permit application by raising concerns about environmental damage from the channel dredge.

Mariano thundered that one reviewer, nationally recognized seagrass expert Mark Fonseca, a Marine Fisheries biologist, "obviously does not have a clue about this project'' and "demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge and expertise on seagrass in Pasco County.''

That logic is ridiculous. Florida's 2 million acres of seagrass beds do not behave differently according to a county's political boundaries.

As envisioned, the channel, 85 feet wide and four miles long, would be shared by boaters launching from seven boat ramps at the future county park and residents/vacationers at the proposed 2,500-home SunWest Harbourtowne just south of the Hernando County line in Aripeka. The permit application is being spearheaded on the private side by Robert Carpenter whose company is completing the long-delayed dredge of the Hernando Beach Channel, four miles north of the Hernando-Pasco border.

While the Dec. 16 letter carried Mariano's signature, it is reminiscent of the 2008 e-mail from Carpenter to Pasco County about its own internal staff review. At the time, Carpenter said the county biologist (the late Robert Tietz) was "not on our side'' and making "permitting almost impossible'' after Tietz suggested a study of Pasco's coastal resources, including environmentally sensitive seagrass that plays a crucial role in the health of the state's fisheries.

In unveiling the Harbourtowne proposal in 2007, the owners said they could dredge the channel without seagrass damage. Later, the state required a recalculation to consider separate, patchy spots of seagrass collectively. The new count meant the dredge would have to mitigate for 28 acres of destroyed seagrass.

As part of the mitigation, the developer proposes to encourage seagrass growth elsewhere by filling a 15-acre underwater hole off the coast of Anclote, created when fill dirt was needed for building the power plant there. Marine Fisheries labeled it extremely risky and said no backup plan was provided in the event of failure. Environmentalists say the idea of filling the underwater hole should be rejected or at least subjected to further study, since a 2005 examination of 11 dredge holes in the Tampa Bay Estuary led to recommendations that seven holes be left unaltered because of their significance as fish habitat.

It's a key point. Instead of lamenting additional scrutiny, Mariano should welcome it. If the Army Corps approves a dredge permit for this channel, it faces a promised legal challenge from the Florida Wildlife Federation. Expecting a federal agency to push through a controversial permit application based on political pressure, rather than legally defensible science, is imprudent.

Election year impatience shouldn't advance recreation and potential future commerce ahead of environmental safeguards.

Comments
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Updated: 30 minutes ago
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18