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River study urges land buy

A draft of a long-awaited river cleanup study has been released, and one of its recommendations is that the city preserve land along the Pithlachascotee River to serve as a stormwater filter. Proponents of a stalled plan to buy and preserve 80 riverfront acres for a park hope the study will bolster their efforts to revive the issue, which New Port Richey voters narrowly defeated in a straw ballot in April.

The 211-page draft study by Tampa-based consultants Dames and Moore was prepared for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) and forwarded to city officials.

The study does not mention any particular tracts that should be preserved, but it does refer to the problem of stormwater runoff, which washes fertilizers and chemicals into the river, as a major cause of the river's pollution. And the study says that one comprehensive way to reduce that pollution would be to create stormwater detention ponds on a "significant area of land."

But in a letter accompanying the report, Swiftmud stressed that the draft study could face revision.

While acknowledging that the study is not complete, supporters of the proposed riverfront land purchase saw good news in it.

"This study really puts in writing what we've known all along," said Wendy Brenner of the Friends of the Cotee River, a political action committee that supports the purchase of the 80 acres. "It can do nothing but help us in our quest."

That quest could start again as early as 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the City Council holds a public hearing at City Hall to hear suggestions on how to implement New Port Richey's comprehensive growth plan, which requires preservation of sensitive lands.

Park proponents see city purchase of the 80-acre tract as an excellent way to satisfy that requirement. But the forces that defeated the plan in the straw ballot are still around, and many city residents are wary of big spending and possible higher taxes.

One of the plan's leading opponents has been George Henry. Despite losing to Peter Altman in the mayoral election in April, Henry helped lead a vigorous campaign against the plan and it defeated the measure in the straw ballot. Henry, a former New Port Richey mayor, argued during the cam

paign for "efficient, conservative city government that progresses in an orderly manner."

"The Times already knows how I feel about it," Henry said Monday when called about the parkland proposal. "I don't wish to make any more comments."

Mayor Altman, a strong supporter of the land purchase, says conditions may have changed since April. More grant money is becoming available, he said, and that could greatly reduce the city's previously discussed cost of about $700,000. Also, the price possibly could be negotiated lower, he said.

The mayor stressed that he will be open to other proposals at the city's public hearing Wednesday, but added that the 80-acre purchase is the only serious plan he has heard.

Among the Dames and Moore study's other tentative findings:

Stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment plants have been found to pollute the Pithlachascotee River. The Colony Cove wastewater treatment plant, south of the river on Trouble Creek Road, has been identified as a big polluter of the river.

Much of the city's development along the river was in place before the implementation of pollution regulations. That has resulted in little consideration for runoff pollution in the most urbanized areas.

The few septic tanks along the river should be scrapped, and the homes should be hooked up to a sewer system.