NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco commissioners reversed themselves Tuesday after voting two weeks ago not to appeal the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denial for a dredge permit for a channel linking the former SunWest mine to the Gulf of Mexico.
After hearing from about a dozen Hudson residents and SunWest Mine executive Gary Grubbs, commissioners unanimously voted to rescind their earlier vote and file an administrative appeal before the July 9 deadline.
Four commissioners switched their votes after County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder said he was incorrect earlier this month when he told them the developer could file an appeal without the county's participation.
Steinsnyder said the county and developer were co-applicants when the permit application was originally submitted, but Corps officials removed the developer from the project.
The Corps' denial was only in Pasco County's name. "If SunWest appeals on their own without any input from county, it would be dismissed as them not having standing," Steinsnyder said.
Grubbs said his company would pay all of the expenses for the appeal, but it needs to be filed in the county's name. "We're very confident we will be successful," he said. "If we weren't confident, we wouldn't spend the time and money."
Supporters of the project said the Corps' district office in Jacksonville violated its own policies by denying the permit even though Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet had endorsed the project. The application should have been referred to the Corps' regional office in Atlanta.
The 60-foot-wide channel was designed so the county could construct seven boat ramps at the park, and to serve as a major draw for a proposed private development, SunWest Harbourtowne.
"I don't think anyone on this dais wants to see the SunWest project fail because we have failed to timely appeal the decision by the Corps," Chairman Ted Schrader said.
The decision is a blow to environmental groups who were united in their opposition to the channel.
Commissioners also agreed to spend $132,499 to redesign the adjacent SunWest park. The new plan reconfigures the entrance and parking areas to eliminate impacts on wetlands so it can be built without a Corps permit.
The county is still negotiating with the Wake Park Project founder Patrick Panakos to operate a wakeboard park in the county park. The park is expected to cost $4.6 million for the first phase. The county will have $3.4 million available for the project.
The redesign also includes a second phase that would include a large boardwalk with shops and restaurants similar to the concept Panakos introduced in 2011 when he first pitched the wake park idea.
Parks Director Rick Buckman said the county doesn't have the estimated $1.6 million needed to build the second phase, but he's confident the county will be able stretch the dollars enough to complete most of the first phase.