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Pasco preserves 97 acres; Crews Lake Park expansion could follow

 
Pasco County’s purchase of nearly 97 acres through its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program could pave the way to expand Crews Lake Wilderness Park, shown here.
Pasco County’s purchase of nearly 97 acres through its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program could pave the way to expand Crews Lake Wilderness Park, shown here.
Published March 29, 2017

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is buying environmentally sensitive land from the Gills family.

It's just not the piece that some residents had hoped the county would pursue to stop a proposed lime rock mine in north-central Pasco.

On Tuesday, commissioners agreed to buy nearly 97 acres for $1,162,320 from Dr. James Pitzer Gills. The land, east of Shady Hills Road, is just south of Crews Lake Park. The land is part of 667 acres the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition Program selection committee targeted for preservation in 2013. The county secured the adjacent 568 acres in 2014.

The cost for the newest acquisition equates to $12,000 per acre, just about splitting the difference between two appraisals that set per-acre values of $11,000 and $12,905.

Conserving the land will help protect habitat at the headwaters of the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers, aid a north-south wildlife linkage and provide other environmental benefits, the county said.

Additionally, the complementary acreage "would allow the expansion of Crews Lake Wilderness Park from 232 acres to 424 acres. The added space will free up the original park boundary to allow the development of long-awaited amenities such as an RV park and extra multiuse trails,'' a March 12 staff memo to commissioners stated.

There is no time frame for that expansion.

"We don't have a land plan at this time, but the additional acreage will help us figure that out,'' Keith Wiley, the manager of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program, told commissioners.

Some residents of north-central Pasco aren't looking for a future park, just peace and quiet. Earlier this month, they advocated for the county to acquire a separate piece of property from Seven Diamonds LLC, a company linked to Gills, that is targeted for a 143-acre mine. That land is west of U.S. 41, about 5.5 miles north of State Road 52.

The request followed a past county decision to allow lime-rock mining on nearby land that is now being challenged in court. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the county, Bob Howell, along with Arlen Black, her attorney; Ed Turanchik; DeeVon Quirolo of Brooksville, and Diane Rowden, a former Hernando commissioner, addressed Pasco commissioners on March 7 and asked the board to deny the pending Seven Mines mining permit application and to preserve the property through the Penny for Pasco-financed ELAMP.

With ELAMP, however, participation is voluntary. As of Tuesday, nobody had submitted an application to the county nominating the site for preservation.

"It's going to happen,'' Turanchik said in a March 23 interview.

The nomination, he said, would be filed on behalf of the Sierra Club.

Howell said he is not hopeful of success because Seven Diamonds hasn't indicated a willingness to sell.

"It's not going to go anywhere,'' he said.

Seven Diamonds president Lew Friedland declined to respond.

"It's all speculation. We're not going to talk about it,'' Friedland said.