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DOCTOR CANCELS MARINA PROJECT IN TAYLOR COUNTY

Regulatory agencies opposed a plan to blast a channel through a sea grass preserve in the state's Big Bend area.

St. Petersburg surgeon has dropped his controversial plans to build a marina and blast through a state aquatic preserve to create a boat channel for his condominium development project in rural Taylor County.

Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Sr., 75, has changed the plans for his Magnolia Bay project in the state's Big Bend area, his attorney, O.M. "Trey" Howard III, confirmed Friday.

"Dr. Pruitt has decided to go in a different direction and focus on creating an eco-friendly golf course community,'' Howard wrote in an e-mail. "The purpose of the modification is to address ... concerns over impacts to the salt marsh and sea grasses."

Pruitt could not be reached for comment Friday. But he told the Perry News-Herald in a story published Friday that he was tired of battling regulatory agencies that opposed the marina and channel.

Originally, Pruitt wanted to build 624 condo units, a marina, an 874-room hotel, a helicopter landing pad, a public aquarium, a marine science laboratory and 280,000 square feet of commercial space on his land in the community of Dekle Beach.

The site consists of 500 acres of swamp and salt marsh known as Boggy Bay. Surrounding it is the Big Bend Seagrass Aquatic Preserve, the state's largest aquatic preserve and one of the largest stretches of uninterrupted sea grass in North America.

It's also a popular place to catch scallops and has Florida's last big, stable population of bay scallops. They're so plentiful that starting July 1, cars line up for more than a mile from the two public ramps.

Building a marina with 374 wet slips, dry storage for 499 more boats and a public ramp that can handle up to 300 vessels a day would have made access to the Gulf of Mexico far easier, Pruitt said last year.

His plans for turning Boggy Bay into Magnolia Bay originally called for filling in more than 100 acres of the wetlands and blasting a 100-foot-wide channel through 36 acres of the preserve's sea grass beds.

Pruitt said last year the 2-mile channel was essential to making Magnolia financially feasible. He said he would transplant all the sea grass to other spots in the preserve, a move state biologists said would be difficult if not impossible to carry out.

Headed for denial

In April, both state and federal agencies that issue permits for the project told Pruitt he was headed for a denial if he did not alter his plans.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which issues federal permits for wetland destruction, was strongly influenced by a letter from state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole that said Pruitt's project was "not in the public interest" because of its impact on the aquatic preserve.

And the state permitting agency, the Suwannee River Water Management District, criticized virtually every aspect of the project, including the 200-foot-wide road Pruitt proposed building through wetlands and the development's failure to deal with the site's high potential to flood during storms.

A changing focus

Howard, Pruitt's attorney, said Magnolia Bay's "focus has changed to creating a golf course community and other eco-friendly water-oriented aspects." He did not know if the plans would be redone to avoid or minimize impacts to the wetlands.

Jon Dinges from the Suwannee River water district said Friday Pruitt had not yet filed any amended plans so he could not say if the changes would be sufficient to win permit approval.

But "this definitely is a reduction in the impact," Dinges said.

Rick Causey, a retired soil scientist in Dekle Beach and Magnolia Bay's most vocal critic, said he was happy to hear Pruitt had changed his plans.

Developer ousted

Howard also confirmed that Pruitt has parted company with Treasure Island developer Chuck Olson, who was in charge of pulling the project together and shepherding it through the permitting process.

Pruitt said last year that he did not know until told by a reporter that in 1993 Olson pleaded no contest to a pair of felony charges, conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and attempted cocaine trafficking. Olson was sentenced to 10 years of probation but completed his time early.

Olson said last year that he did not hide his felony convictions from Pruitt. Olson could not be reached for comment Friday.

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