NEW PORT RICHEY — Making good on a longstanding pledge, the Sierra Club has gone to court to halt construction of the Ridge Road extension.
In a news release issued early Friday morning, the Sierra Club announced it was suing the Army Corps of Engineers, which late last year issued a permit for the Ridge Road extension project.
In its legal filing in U.S. District Court, the environmental group accuses the Corps of Engineers of issuing the permit in violation of various federal environmental and wildlife protection acts and of failing to take other alternatives to Pasco County’s Ridge Road extension plan into account.
The Sierra Club also charges that the Corps of Engineers relied on outdated environmental survey data in review Pasco County’s Ridge Road extension permit application.
The Sierra Club lawsuit is seeking an emergency restraining order or temporary injunction or both because construction of the Ridge Road extension is already under way.
In the Sierra Club news releases, its Florida conservation chair, Tim Martin, said the environmental group is dedicating “significant resources” to its efforts to halt the roadway construction.
The Sierra Club’s suit names as defendants the Corps of Engineers, its commander, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite and Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the corps’ Jacksonville District.
Pasco County is not a defendant in the suit.
The Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction over Pasco County’s application for an environmental permit for the Ridge Road extension under the federal Clean Water Act.
For more than 20 years, the county has been seeking permission to extend Ridge Road from its current eastern end, at Moon Lake Road-DeCubellis Road. Phase one of the project would take Ridge Road to the Suncoast Parkway toll road. A possible phase two would see Ridge Road extended from the parkway to U.S. 41.
Most of the route of phase one of the Ridge Route extension runs through the Serenova Tract, a part of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve, an 8,300-acre conservation area under the control of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
“Contrary to what county officials are claiming, there will not be traffic through the Serenova in nine months,” Martin said in the Sierra Club statement. “There should never be traffic inside a nature preserve.’
In a statement released in response to a request for comment on the Sierra Club lawsuit, Brendan Fitterer, a Pasco public information officer, said the county “does not comment on pending litigation.”
The Ridge Road extension, Fitterer said, is a “critically needed, additional east-west thoroughfare that has the potential to save lives during an emergency evacuation while providing enhanced connectivity and accessibility.”
In response to concerns raised about the possible environmental impact of the Ridge Road extension, Fitterer said, Pasco County has taken great care with the design and environmental considerations of this project, including extensive bridging and numerous wildlife crossings designed to maintain habitat continuity.
Asked for comment on the Sierra Club suit Friday morning at a public event, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano said county officials were expecting the legal challenge.
Prior to the announcement of the Sierra Club lawsuit, local Ridge Road extension opponents had said they plan to conduct a “Tortoise Vigil” this Sunday. Feb. 9, at the corner of Ridge Road and Moon Lake Road. The groups Save Our Serenova and Pasco Activists have charged that the removal of gopher tortoises from along the route of the Ridge Road extension is not being conducted in a proper manner.
Florida has designated the gopher tortoise a threatened species, which means they can’t be touched or relocated without a permit.