Pasco County has revised and tweaked the permit application for its proposed SunWest Park. It has enlisted congressmen to lobby on the county’s behalf. But none of those efforts was enough to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permit.
The Corps’ Jacksonville District on Friday denied the permit to dredge a 60-foot-wide channel that would provide boat access to the Gulf of Mexico. The channel also would have open Gulf access for residents of a proposed upscale home development, SunWest Harbourtowne.
The Florida Cabinet unanimously endorsed the project two years ago, and the state Department of Environmental Protection permitted the dredge. But the Corps “determined that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest based on several factors, including conservation, economics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, navigation, recreation, water quality and safety.”
Spokeswoman Nancy Sticht said the Corps had received more than 9,000 individual comments and petitions with more than 40,000 signatures requesting denial of the project. Environmental groups were united in their opposition.
“It was a really bad idea,” said Clay Colson, founder of the Pasco group Citizens for Sanity. “It would have been the most environmentally damaging permit the Corps had issued in the history of the state of Florida.”
Kevin O’Kane, chief of the Corps’ Tampa Regulatory Office, warned county officials a year ago the office would not approve the permit without substantive changes. The county rerouted the proposed channel, but it still would have impacted acres of seagrass and wetlands.
“We are confident that our decision is based on sound science and a comprehensive, thorough review of potential impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed project on the public’s interest,” O’Kane said.
The denial was not unexpected. “We knew this was coming,” Commissioner Jack Mariano said. “It actually feels good to be done with the Corps.”
But the lengthy permitting process stalled progress on an adjacent cable-skiing park on SunWest lake. County Commissioners agreed in late 2011 to partner with the Orlando-based Wake Park Project to develop an extreme water sports facility on the former mine.
Mariano said the county is redesigning the wake park so it can proceed this summer. “We should have the new plan any day now,” he said. “We changed the way we set up the parking lot so it will have zero effect on any wetlands. We should be able to get a DEP permit in a few weeks.”
Mariano said the redesign will create more beaches along the freshwater lake. Another added bonus will be an amphitheater for live music. “We’re ready to rock and roll,” he said. “I want to have that national wakeboard championship here next year. I want our citizens to be able to use it by Chasco Fiesta.”