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Tampa Bay Times, October 23, 2014

Pasco loses appeal on channel dredge permit for SunWest development
By Dan DeWitt

ARIPEKA — The Army Corps of Engineers once again has denied Pasco County permission to dredge a deepwater channel in the Gulf of Mexico to its proposed SunWest Park in Aripeka.

The corps previously had denied Pasco's application in May 2013. The county appealed to senior corps staffers in Jacksonville and learned this week that the denial was upheld.

The decision was applauded by Mac Davis, president of the Gulf Coast Conservancy, one of several environmental agencies that fought the dredge, citing damage to sea grass beds, among other issues.

"We are quite happy," Davis said. "We were confident that the environmental damages would outweigh any advantages of the dredge."

County Administrator Michele Baker disagreed.

"The SunWest Park boat ramp would have provided badly needed access for boaters not only in Pasco County but for Hernando County residents," Baker said Thursday in a news release.

Work has begun on the park in northwest Pasco, which will include a beach and a wakeboarding facility and is expected to open next year, said county spokesman Doug Tobin. Plans for the park also had included seven boat ramps that would have relieved congestion at nearby boat launches, such as the ones at Hudson Beach and Port Richey.

"There aren't a lot of places to get a boat into the water," Tobin said.

The adjacent SunWest Harbourtowne development, plans for which include 2,500 residential units and 500 boat slips, also would have benefited from the dredge, Davis said.

"In our opinion, the dredge was never for the benefit of the park, but for SunWest Harbourtowne," he said.

But Bob Carpenter, former project manager for the development company, SunWest Acquisitions, said the denial of the permit would not scuttle plans for the project, which was approved by the county in 2010.

"We won't have a boat lift," which had been designed to give residents access to the channel, Carpenter said. "It's kind of a minor change for a 2,500-unit development."

The County Commission initially balked at challenging last year's denial, but reversed course after Harbourtowne developer Gary Grubbs agreed to pay for the appeal.

Grubbs would also pay if the County Commission decides to challenge the latest denial, possibly by resubmitting the plans and restarting the process from scratch, said commission Chairman Jack Mariano.

Mariano, a longtime supporter of the dredge, said he didn't yet know whether he would push for such a challenge.

"I haven't read the whole document," he said of the corps' denial. "But my initial feeling is, this should be a passable channel."

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton