Commissioners on Tuesday approved buying a 500-acre parcel near the Starkey Wilderness Preserve that could be used to offset wetland damage from the future extension of Ridge Road.
The so-called Crockett Lake property is near the planned route of the road, which has been awaiting a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more than a decade.
Part of the old Crockett Lake Ranch, the land sits just north of the proposed Ridge Road extension between the Woodland Hills subdivision in Moon Lake and the Serenova preserve.
The parcel currently has three owners: Deb Limited Partnership, NG Development Corp., and Cone and Graham Inc.
The county will buy the land for just more than $6 million, using road money set aside for land acquisition.
The tract would be added to 220 acres of swampland near the River Ridge subdivision to mitigate the county's portion of 59 acres of wetlands that would be damaged or destroyed by the road extension.
The 8-mile road would connect the heavily populated west side of the county with the Suncoast Parkway and eventually to U.S. 41 at Connerton. The heart of environmentalists' concerns is that it would cut through the middle of the 6,000-acre Serenova preserve, just north of Starkey park.
Keith Wiley, the director of the county's environmental lands program, said the property could also be used for a wetlands mitigation bank if it isn't used for the Ridge Road project. About 200 acres on the site could be used as habitat for the endangered gopher tortoise.
Commissioner Ted Schrader said the county got a good deal for the land. "This piece of property, a number of years ago, you probably couldn't touch it for this price," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.