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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Help sought on road permit

— Pasco County commissioners are prepared to spend another $722,000 in their latest effort to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the embattled Ridge Road extension.

Commissioners voted last week to hire Washington, D.C., environmental firm Dawson & Associates to rewrite the permit application, which the Corps has rejected for 13 years. The cost of the one-year contract is $512,000.

“We think it’s time to bring in somebody who thinks like a federal regulator,” County Administrator Michele Baker said.

Dawson & Associates describes itself as “the nation’s premier firm for resolving complex challenges involving federal water resources and environmental regulatory policy and procedures.” Dave Barrows, a former regulatory chief for the agency who now works for the firm, would serve as the primary liaison.

“This project, in the last few years, has hit an impasse, and the Corps believes it hasn’t received the information it needs to make a decision,” he told commissioners. “We have technical expertise and communicate well with the Corps of Engineers.”

County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder vouched for the firm. “These folks are uniquely skilled to take us through the process.”

The permit seeks to extend Ridge Road — which dead ends at Moon Lake Road — by 8 miles to the Suncoast Parkway and later to U.S. 41. Opponents view the proposed road through the 6,000-acre Serenova Tract as an intrusion into a delicate wildlife area and a vehicle for overdevelopment in Pasco.

Commissioner Ted Schrader chafed at the idea of hiring another high-priced consultant. “My institutional knowledge is that we’ve already spent a bunch of money,” he said.

The county already has spent more than $6.1 million for the design and permitting of the road, but Baker said those costs are typical for a project of this size and complexity. Baker estimates the county will have to spend another $210,000 on studies to include in the reworked submittal.

Barrows said his team would simplify the application and focus more on the road’s potential as a hurricane evacuation route.

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