NEW PORT RICHEY — An attorney for the Suncoast Sierra Club has sent a letter strongly condemning the proposed Ridge Road extension through the Serenova preserve, which forms the northern section of the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County.
A group of 30 environmental and conservationist and Democratic Party-affiliated organizations have joined the coalition in condemning the road project, including environmental, political, and horse rider advocacy groups.
The Sierra Club and its allies have vowed to take legal action in the event the project gets a permit from Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over Pasco County’s Ridge Road extension permit request under the federal Cleaning Water Act.
In addition, Save the Serenova backers plan a hike of the preserve on Saturday, Feb. 14.
“Today we demonstrate strong community support to reject this road to nowhere,” Suncoast Sierra Club Conservation Chair Tim Martin, speaking on behalf of the Save the Serenova coalition, said in a Feb. 8 email.
“This gift to developers has already cost Pasco taxpayers millions of dollars and will cost many millions more as it threatens to destroy the best nature preserve left in Pasco county. The Army Corps of Engineers should reject the permit application and preserve the Serenova for all those who enjoy the park, as well as the many species that live there.”
Representing the Suncoast Sierra Club, attorney Jane West sent the detailed letter to the Corps of Engineers last week. The letter highlights the numerous errors and inconsistencies that have been documented via comments to the administrative record over the past 19 years since the Pasco County Commission first applied for the permit.
The 6,500-acre Serenova Tract was purchased in the late 1990s as mitigation for construction of the Suncoast Parkway.
The Pasco County Commission has been seeking permission to extend Ridge Road from its current eastern end at DeCubellis-Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast Parkway. A possible second phase would see Ridge Road extended farther east, to U.S. 41.
The Suncoast Parkway, which opened to traffic in 2001, was constructed with an overpass to accommodate a Ridge Road interchange. Among other benefits, Pasco officials say, the Ridge Road extension would provide another evacuation route from West Pasco.
Opponents, however, say the evacuation in September prompted by Hurricane Irma went off smoothly without the Ridge Road extension and building it would be a “taxpayer-funded boondoggle.”
The Ridge Road extension project is one of the longest pending permit applications in Corps of Engineers history. This has led U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, to accuse corps officials of foot-dragging on Pasco County’s permit request. Last year, Bilirakis urged President Donald Trump to expedite the Ridge Road project.
Anti-Ridge Road extension protesters are hiking into the area 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, according to Dan Callaghan, a spokesman for the opponents. The purpose of the hike, he said is “to see how beautiful the Serenova is now, to understand what we are about to lose if we don’t stop the Ridge Road extension, to find out what value the Serenova has right now, as it is, and as it was supposed to be in perpetuity.”
One hike is about five miles; the short one about a mile from a starting point near the intersection of S.R. 52 and Hays Road.
Organizations that signed the Sierra Club letter are:
• Awake Pasco
• Central Pasco Democratic Club
• Chart 411
• Citizens for Sanity
• Clearwater Audubon
• Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida
• East Pasco Democratic Club
• Environment Florida
•Florida Defenders of the Environment
• Food and Water Watch
• Friends of Anclote Key
• Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists
• Green Party of Florida
• Gulf Coast Conservancy
• Heritage Pines Democratic Club
• Land O’ Lakes Democratic Club
• Nature Coast Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society
• Organize Florida
• Pasco County National Organization for Women (NOW)
• Pasco Democratic Executive Committee
• Pasco Horseman’s Association
• Pinellas Florida Native Plant Society
• Progress Florida
• Progressive Democratic Caucus of Pasco
• Suncoast Sierra Club
• Suncoast Surfrider
• Sunshine Citizens
• Tampa Bay Sierra Club
• Trinity Democratic Club
• West Pasco Democratic Club