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Expert to oversee lake project

(ran South, East editions)

Last fall, City Council member Virginia Littrell thought about possible artifacts buried in Lake Maggiore muck _ and how a lake restoration project could destroy history forever.

Littrell coaxed a recommendation from a state agency that an expert should watchdog the project.

As a result, the city will hire an archaeologist for about $35,000. His or her job will be to make sure dredging and drying of muck won't hurt anything that could offer clues about people who lived here long before 20th-century development.

In essence, the archaeologist is coming as an afterthought. A consultant originally told the council there are no historical resources at Lake Maggiore, Littrell said.

That prompted the council to request that city administrators and lawyers look closely at the process for getting permits for such projects as the lake restoration.

Consultants are critical to the permitting process. Policymakers rely on them to make decisions about projects. Consultants supply information to state and federal agencies that makes sure city government complies with regulations.

Agencies might include the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environment Protection and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, for example.

Another is the state Division of Historical Resources, which, at Littrell's request, revaluated the Lake Maggiore project and recommended that an archaeologist monitor it.

"We hire these consultants. They are charged with getting the permits for us. How do they get the permit?" Littrell wonders.

She said she doesn't intend to imply there is any deliberate wrongdoing. "I am just saying maybe there was someone on the (consultant's) staff that wasn't totally familiar with the process," she said.

Said chief assistant city attorney Mark Winn:

"Normally what would happen if the council asks us to coordinate with the administration looking at a situation, we kind of rely on the administration to take the first look and get together with us about what their procedures are and what they actually do.

"It's not really an audit in the sense you're doing a detailed review of everything that goes on. . . . It's not so much an investigation of wrongdoing or something along those lines. It's really more just for informational purposes at this point."

Council member Bill Foster said he and his colleagues just want to make sure the council gets all the accurate information it needs before approving projects.

Foster recalled at least one occasion when the city was fined by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, for doing something the regulatory agency didn't approve.

"I had to ask the question, why did this happen?" Foster said.

Littrell also cited a Swiftmud project in which the city had to get an after-the-fact permit.

"I knew full well what had happened with DHR," she said. "There were too many coincidences, too many problems with permitting."

The city hopes to have the Lake Maggiore archaeologist on board this month.

Among other duties, the expert will identify historically significant spots, review dredging and drying methods, advise the city on how to deal with discoveries and teach the project contractor basics about the kinds of artifacts that might be found.

The $11-million restoration project has been discussed for years. It is expected to improve the 380-acre lake's water and habitat quality. The main part of the work is expected to begin in June and last about two years.

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