ARIEPKA - It's sink or swim time for Pasco County to salvage a plan for a beachfront park on former SunWest mine property, commissioners discussed this week.
A redesign of the county's proposed SunWest Park, in the Aripeka area west of U.S. 19, would end the need for wetland review by federal regulators, Commissioner Jack Mariano said this week.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently denied a dredging permit for the SunWest Park, which included deepening a canal to provide access from the park to the Gulf. A private developer has plans to construct SunWest Harbourtowne, an upscale subdivision that would be adjacent to the county park.
"We're going to be able to separate the county park out of the rest of the development," Mariano said.
A reconfigured park would avoid wetlands that trigger a federal review under the 1970 Clean Water Act, Mariano said. Pasco may need only state approval for the park.
In rejecting the dredging permit the Corps of Engineers said the change in the route of the dredging the county had proposed to lessen the impact on sea grass beds would not have done enough to prevent damage to the marine ecosystem.
In the wake of the permit rejection, County staff is negotiating a task order for redesign of SunWest Park, according to Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker.
"It would allow us to move forward with the beach park," Baker said. Commissioners will get to review a potential contract in the near future, she added.
"The intention is to reduce the impacts" on wetlands below the threshold that triggers a federal review, Baker explained. The county would deal only with meeting standards set by Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Another option would include an appeal of the Corps of Engineers' denial of the canal dredging permit, Baker said. Commissioners can decide that later.
Changes to the park design would shift a parking lot that had drawn objections from the Corps, Mariano elaborated.
The county could wind up with more beachfront after the redesign, Mariano said.
"They actually have done us a favor" in denying permit, Mariano said about the Corps of Engineers.
A parking lot with 500 spaces in the original plan seems big, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said.
The original plan envisioned parking for vehicles and boat trailers, Baker said.