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Low fee set for habitat

To replace the wildlife habitat destroyed by the 1,090-acre Holland Spring subdivision, the project's developer probably will be forced to pay $220,000, only enough to buy a wildlife refuge of less than 75 acres. The dollar amount is less than one-third of the original request by the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

But a representative for Elviretta Corp., the developer, defended the agreement. "There has been very little or any mitigation (in the past), and this, I think, is a big step," said Jim Stutzman of King Engineering Associates Inc.

The $220,000 fee is subject to approval by the Hernando County Commission. The commission will have a public hearing on the matter at 1:30 p.m. today at the county Government Center.

The fee represents less than $100 for each of the 2,205 homes and apartments planned for the project, east of Spring Hill near the Hernando County Airport.

"It wasn't what we had anticipated," said Rick McCann, a biologist with the game commission. "But again, this is a strange project."

The Holland Spring subdivision is unusual, McCann said, because it was approved in 1983 with a requirement that Elviretta offset the environmental damage done by the project. But the approval did not specify what should be done.

State game officials argued that Elviretta should have to comply with current regulations because it waited so long to develop its plan. But Elviretta convinced the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) that it should be subject to the less restrictive regulations in effect in 1983.

The sand hills scattered across the Holland Spring site are home to many gopher tortoises and members of other troubled species, game officials said. They wanted Elviretta to pay $817,500 _ enough to buy a 272.5-acre preserve at $3,000 an acre. Such a preserve would be about one-fourth the size of the subdivision.

But DCA planners have agreed to a complicated formula involving the purchase of new land and the relocation of some of the native animals. Elviretta already has paid about $70,000 to move gopher tortoises and other species from 350 acres being developed.

In addition, the company has agreed to pay the $220,000 to compensate for the remaining 740 acres to be developed.

That will provide enough for about 73 acres, or a wildlife refuge about one-tenth the size of that portion of the subdivision.

The DCA has some regulatory power over large developments such as Holland Spring, although the approval of the wildlife fee is subject to County Commission approval.

Stutzman of King Engineering Associates Inc. said he had not gotten any reaction from environmentalists or others on the proposed settlement. "But I would think it's vastly improved over what has happened in the past," he said.

But the state's efforts to mitigate the impact of development on Florida's fragile environment has come under fire. Developers, for instance, occasionally are allowed to destroy swamps, marshes and other wetlands as long as they build new ones somewhere else.

But critics charge that the state is unable to ensure that the man-made wetlands perform as they are designed.

Efforts to buy replacement habitats for animals also have been criticized. Some environmentalists say wildlife preserves are of limited effectiveness if they are too small.