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Southwest Florida Water Management District explains development plans

Insider's view on development plan

Over the years, the Southwest Florida Water Management District has protected more than 11,000 acres of ecosystems in the gulf coast area of Hernando and Pasco counties. Known as the Weekiwachee Preserve, these and other public lands in the region provide a vast network of invaluable protection to our water resources, water quality, and habitat for many Florida species, including black bears.

As originally proposed, the SunWest Harbourtowne Development of Regional Impact (DRI) would isolate 90 acres of district-owned land between Aripeka Road (SR 550) to the north and the development to the south. The proposed development would also develop land that adjoins 1,102 acres of district-owned land further south.

District staff developed a contingency plan that would exchange the 90-acre tract for approximately 396 acres that adjoin district land to the south and another 849 acres of valuable coastal habitat west of the development. This exchange would eliminate the fragmentation to the southern parcel, provide for a more contiguous land holding along the coast, and ultimately result in a more manageable tract of land.

The 396-acre property being offered in exchange provides greater overall ecosystem protection and wildlife benefits. The undeveloped uplands and wetlands provide a vital habitat to a number of rare and endangered species including black rail, diamondback terrapin, Florida scrub-jay, Gulf Coast salt marsh snake, Marian's marsh wren, Scott's seaside sparrow and gopher tortoises.

The exchange agreement that will be presented to the District's Coastal Rivers Basin Board and then to the Governing Board is only valid if the DRI is ultimately approved. The DRI is subject to approval by a number of agencies, including Pasco County and the Department of Community Affairs.

Eric Sutton, Land Resources Director, Southwest Florida Water Management District

Plan balances nature, project | Feb. 10 letter

Park will happen, with homes or not

Besides implying that growth management is a bad thing, the letter writer states "the project is a cooperative effort between government and developers and will provide a Pasco County Park with deep water public access to the Gulf." This is misleading. There will be a Pasco County Park with or without the surroundings of 2,500 homes, hotel and marina of SunWest, built in the coastal high hazard zone.

In fact, if the Sunwest mine had not managed to renege on its original mining agreement with Pasco County, there would have been a much larger park for the citizens of Pasco, in a much more natural setting, without the potential damage to the ecosystems surrounding the park. It could have been a park for all citizens, not primarily a boat-launch facility.

And by the way, according to the Urban Land Institute report, available online from the Pasco County home page, the county has already entitled over 572,000 dwelling units, more than four times the reasonably expected absorption of residential demand over the next 20 years. So environmentalists haven't been doing all that well at stopping or stifling way too many projects.

Richard Stauffer, Aripeka

Plan balances nature, project | Feb. 10 letter

Check developer's 'green' record

The letter writers asks, how much contiguous land is available now? The short answer is not enough. Dr. Dave Maher, who studied this bear population for five years, wrote his answer last spring, "What this population needs is expanding suitable habitat not the continued fragmentation and outright loss of the unique forests in the region."

The letter writer also asks, what is the percentage lost if the 90 acres is traded to make the project fly? Dr. Tom Hoctor, University of Florida, studied this exact question. His answer: "The development would result in the loss of over 700 acres of primary and secondary habitat.'' Seven hundred acres lost divided by 90 acres swapped is a 778 per cent loss.

The writer erroneously states that the [SunWest Harbourtowne] plan would "add up to 1,800 acres in addition to what is available presently." The truth, as reading the SunWest DRI carefully shows, is that the developer intends to transfer approximately 1,250 acres of coastal marsh land. This land has no value to the developer, and much of it may in fact be sovereign land belonging to the state of Florida. Even adding the non-contiguous jurisdictional wetlands interior to the project that cannot be developed, it is not possible to reach the 1,800 acre figure. The water district gives up 90 acres of core bear habitat including a den site. The district gains about 90 acres that could have been developed.

The statement that "the developers have a whatever-it-takes attitude" is true, but not in the way he intended. To get the real story, please read the SunWest application for development (DRI 267) and follow the developer's reasoning through the four rounds of requests for additional information that paint a picture of a developer who has consistently made claims for environmental awareness while continuing to fail to provide any evidence of intention to follow through on these high-sounding promises.

Carol Gula, Aripeka

Public shouldn't fund power plant

The blood-curdling scream heard throughout the New Port Richey area at about 4:30 p.m. Feb. 2 was me. My mail came and I opened the electric bill. What did I do wrong and how can Progress Energy do this to me?

I read about the increase in the Times but it didn't hit home until I got this bill. The electric company pays ex-politicians to influence current politicians (their buddies) to vote for the bills they're pushing. Progress Energy is making millions in profits, yet we have to finance their nuclear power plant that won't come online until maybe 2020 The construction price is going to go up and we will be jabbed again.

I hate to sound like one of those bitter senior citizens on a fixed income but, I am one. Progress Energy is a privately owned publicly traded entity that we have to finance. What a bunch of hooey. I have $200 worth of Christmas lights for sale if anybody is interested.

Thomas Karcher, New Port Richey

Southwest Florida Water Management District explains development plans 02/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 6:33pm]

    

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