1. Archive

Meeting airs parkway extension concerns

(ran PW, PS editions of Pasco Times)

A six-lane toll road through central Citrus would affect the environment. It's the one thing that just about everyone _ whether they are for or against the possible Suncoast Parkway extension _ can agree on.

Government officials seem to say the effect would be acceptable. Locals speaking out against the toll road say no.

Government officials and citizens spent hours Thursday at a "scoping" session, designed to determine relevant issues in a state study of the toll road's impact. They agreed the fate of black bears, gopher tortoises, scrub jays, woodpeckers and possibly manatees hangs in the balance.

Many state agencies that would have to grant permits for the road rely on a concept called mitigation: replacing lost habitat or wildlife, perhaps in another county, to make up for any damage that the road work would cause locally.

Opponents said the concept doesn't work.

"How can you say that building a red-cockaded woodpecker farm in Levy County makes up for the ones lost here when the road gets built?" asked Kathy Chetoka, a Lecanto resident who lives near a section of the proposed Suncoast Parkway 2 corridor.

Thursday's scoping mission was an early part of a three-year study by the Florida Turnpike regarding the possible parkway extension through Citrus. The road's northern terminus now is at U.S. 98 at the Hernando County line.

On Thursday, representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Swiftmud, the state Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies met at the Lecanto Government Building to present their views.

They all had concerns about the environmental impact a road extension would cause.

For example, the road would have to be built through state lands purchased for conservation. Construction also would interrupt black bear movement, threaten Florida scrub jays and affect the aquifer. The government representatives frequently mentioned mitigation as a means of giving the DOT their approval.

"Mitigation can mean creating or enhancing areas in other parts of the state to make up for the damage here," said Raymond Ashe Jr., manager of the environmental management office of the Department of Transportation Turnpike Division.

Ashe said the concerns raised by the government agencies were typical ones that are handled nearly every time DOT builds a road.

While government representatives withheld judgment on whether the road should be built, members of COST, a Citrus group vehemently opposed to the project, didn't hold back when their turn to speak came up.

COST members wore black to dramatize their mourning of the death of local environment if the road is built. One member said the rain that fell on the day the Suncoast Parkway's first phase opened symbolized God's tears.

COST chairwoman Janet Masaoy said a Citrus extension would pave over aquifer recharge areas, cause noise and air pollution and prevent forestry officials from using controlled burns to manage forests.

"This is an environmental disaster waiting to happen," said Masaoy. "There's no need for this road to be built."

Other opponents said the toll road would lead to rampant growth, rather than controlled growth.

"It's a can opener to the countryside," said Clay Colson, a Land O'Lakes resident who is the Nature Coast issue chairman of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club.

No one spoke in favor of the Suncoast Parkway, although a recent poll conducted by Florida Turnpike Enterprises showed 60 percent of Citrus residents questioned were in favor of a Citrus extension.

Those supporters included 35 percent who favored the road unconditionally and 24 percent who supported the road under certain conditions, such as limited impact to wetlands or wildlife.

Only 14 percent said they opposed the road, while 27 percent were undecided or had no opinion. The phone poll contacted 800 residents.