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Noise-quieting parkway berm riles those left out

A fence, a million-dollar mound of dirt and several dozen trees.

That's what will separate Silverthorn residents from the Suncoast Parkway in six months. And that's also what has aggravated other residents bordering the Suncoast Parkway.

The state has begun the project, worth about $1-million, to erect a 40-foot-wide, 6-foot-high berm, to snake along the eastern edge of Silverthorn development bordering the parkway, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joanne Hurley.

Silverthorn homeowners successfully lobbied and negotiated for the sound barrier last year, which culminated with a series of standing-room-only meetings with the DOT last March and April.

The project began June 3, and the yellowish-orange berms are starting to take shape on the southern end of the development. However, Silverthorn owners are somewhat suspicious of how it's going to turn out.

"The jury's still out," said Bob Mackey, the Silverthorn homeowner who spearheaded the project to seek a barrier. "Piles of sand don't tell the story necessarily, and we're probably a month away

from seeing something we can really talk about."

Yet, the construction has sparked a number of conversations in other Hernando County neighborhoods among residents who envy Silverthorn's dirt and are wondering why the community deserves special treatment.

Some Oakwood Acres residents can see the dump trucks unloading piles across the parkway from their houses east of Silverthorn. A wire fence is all that separates Oakwood Acres development from the sounds of cars and trucks whizzing by at 70 mph.

"How come they're putting that big buffer only on one side of the parkway?" asked Ruth Harper Boehme, who lives in Oakwood Acres. "The noise is so bad over here, I can't even hear my birds."

Silverthorn's berm is a result of organized, consistent lobbying, Hurley said. Silverthorn wrote and called the DOT and asked. Then they set up a committee and a legal spokesman to meet and work with the state.

"It was a process they did internally, before they even talked to us," said Hurley who insists that no other Hernando community has asked the state to build a sound barrier.

But Gloria Williams disagrees. The Oakwood Acres owner and developer said she asked the state for a barrier years ago, but nobody listened.

"I asked for it too, but it didn't do me any good," said Williams, whose heavily wooded development has 75 residents. "It's pretty hard to get something out of the state if you don't have a lot of money."

The Silverthorn community has about 800 homes, some of which approach $400,000 in value.

The berm on the west side of the parkway will run about half a mile, with several gaps around already existing berms and vegetation. Eventually, trees and shrubs will be planted on top of the berm. That should expand the barrier another 6 to 8 feet, once they mature.

The contractors have said it will take 170 days to finish the project from its June 3 start, which means it should be done by Nov. 20.