Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
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Keep it simple on Ridge Road extension permit, consultant says

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Pasco County’s ill-fated Ridge Road Extension permit application has too much information and not enough emphasis on the right information to pass muster with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to the county’s newest consultant.

“There are critical points that needed to be more clearly brought out,” said Dwight Beranek, team leader from Dawson & Associates, the Washington, D.C., environmental firm hired to review the county’s stymied permit.

Dawson & Associates describes itself as “the nation’s premier firm for resolving complex challenges involving federal water resources and environmental regulatory policy and procedures.” Beranek is a former deputy director and chief of engineering at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The county has tried unsuccessfully for the last 13 years to get Corps of Engineers approval to extend Ridge Road, which dead ends at Moon Lake road, by eight miles to the Suncoast Parkway and later to U.S. 41.

“It’s an important project for the county,” Beranek said. “We examined the record for the last three or four years between (the Corps of Engineers) and the county. The bottom line is there was an extensive, almost exhaustive amount of details both from the Corps and the county on the various submittals. The last submittal from the county, while it contained all of the parts, could have highlighted better some of the things the Corps was looking for.”

For starters, the county needs to emphasize that the primary purpose of the Ridge Road extension is to serve as a hurricane evacuation route for a county that has a huge coastal population and only two evacuation options: State Roads 54 and 52.

“Tropical Storm Debby closing S.R. 54 is one of the most important elements of the alternatives analysis and should be clearly and concisely discussed in the body of the alternatives analysis supported by information in the appendix,” Beranek wrote. “The discussion should be reinforced with a statement reflecting the relative cost to prevent S.R. 54 from flooding during a significant rain event.”

He said most of that information was in the last application, but the message got muddled. “It didn’t jump out at the Corps,” he said.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said Beranek’s observations were on point. “Perhaps we’re too verbose, we just go on and on,” she said. “Putting together any kind of report is a skill, and you have to know how to delineate the important aspects.”

County Administrator Michele Baker said she was a bit humbled after reading the Dawson report and realizing the county probably could have used a good editor.

“We could have told our story better, clearer, shorter, more on point — that is valuable advice,” she said. “It was comforting to know they thought we had good data in there, but we needed to do a better job explaining that.”

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.

Beranek said the county should tweak its alternatives analysis because it was too quick to exclude options that were more expensive than the county’s preferred route. “There’s no need to start over,” he said.

Baker said someone from the firm would be at the May 6 county commission meeting to discuss the report and its recommendations. She’ll ask the board to hire Dawson & Associates — at a cost of $38,500 per month — to help the county rewrite and resubmit the application.

“We might as well give it a shot,” Mulieri said. “I thought they made salient points, and we should follow them.”

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