The Army Corps’ correct call
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision last week to reject an application by Pasco County to construct a county park along the coast is an example of how a public regulatory agency should work. It’s not often that anyone can say that about the Army Corps, which has a poor history in Florida. Environmentalists should not be the only ones happy about the rejection. The project, which as applied for would have included a 60-foot-wide, 4-mile-long channel, would have torpedoed nearly 29 acres of seagrass habitat and four acres of wetlands in the Hudson area. The environmental destruction would have been great. Any economic benefits would have been minor. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Bay and the area from Tarpon Springs, south of Hudson, north to Apalachee Bay, are “two of the most extensive seagrass beds in continental North America.”Seagrasses provide shelter for marine life, and food for water birds and other marine animals. They help safeguard water clarity and stabilize the bottom of the gulf. These grasses should not be destroyed simply to give boaters easier access to the water. Pasco County officials should have known better, but they often show little concern for their natural gifts. Pasco officials approved plans for a major mall along Cypress Creek, an Outstanding Florida Water, in Wesley Chapel — a project that has stalled after a federal judge’s ruling in a lawsuit challenging it in 2010. The suit came after the Corps originally granted the developers a permit to destroy numerous wetlands. In addition, Pasco officials stubbornly continue to push the Ridge Road extension through the Serenova, a significant wilderness tract purchased by the state to mitigate for the environmental destruction caused by the construction of the Suncoast Parkway toll road. Inexplicably, the Corps is still reviewing the county’s permit application for the extension 14 years after the original application was filed. To their credit, Pasco officials have strongly opposed a developer’s proposal to develop a garbage landfill on the edge of the Green Swamp in east Pasco. They also should have seen the value of the Hudson area seagrasses and wetlands. Tens of thousands of people understand the need to protect this fragile coastal area. More than 9,000 individuals asked the Corps to deny the county’s application, and 40,000 people signed petitions opposing the project. The Corps agreed, citing environmental, water quality, economical and other concerns. Regulators made the right call, which, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen in Florida.