Gov. Rick Scott's letter of March 23 concerning the proposed Ridge Road Extension in Pasco County promotes a false narrative in numerous ways.
First and foremost, the project's justification as a hurricane evacuation route is patently absurd. Realistically, it can never adequately serve such a function as it is a road to nowhere. The first terminus would be the Suncoast Parkway, which travels back to the coast in either direction. The second phase (unfunded) would terminate at U.S. 41 in the middle of nowhere.
At either terminus, evacuees would be required to go north or south to the existing evacuation routes, state roads 52 and 54, further exasperating existing bottlenecks at these intersections. SR 52 and 54 both provide easy access to nine of Pasco's 25 evacuation shelters. It is absurd to claim this route would save lives when instead it will put lives at risk.
Pasco and the state should instead focus their efforts and our money on the needed widening of SR 52 to Interstate 75. Also, there are other practicable alternatives for east/west corridors: the Tower Road project, the Lake Patience project, the Moon Lake/Decubellis Road project and Hernando County's desire to improve and widen County Line Road.
The "long pending permit" is due to Pasco's failures of timely, accurate, factual and relevant responses to requests for additional information, which are generated by comments from individuals, environmental groups, attorneys and federal agencies questioning the road's justification/need, the destruction of mitigation wetlands (which were to be preserved) and the loss of quality of life for Pasco's citizens.
The Serenova tract was purchased as mitigation for more than 220 acres of wetlands destroyed in the construction of the Suncoast Parkway. It, along with two other tracts, were added to the Starkey Wilderness Preserve to create 19,000 contiguous acres of natural flora and fauna in the heart of Pasco for future generations of Floridians to enjoy.
Bisecting the preserve with a road prevents use of best land management practices, specifically controlled burns, which cannot be duplicated by mechanical means but are necessary.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the wetlands of Serenova as an aquatic resource of national importance, which elevates the requirement for protection; other federal agencies oppose the project as well.
In closing, a quote former Florida Gov. Ruben Askew: "Ecological destruction in Florida is nothing less than economic suicide."
The permit should be denied, not expedited.
Clay G. Colson, board director and water issues chairman, Citizens for Sanity.Com Inc.