Pasco News

SunWest county park bids likely in November

ARIPEKA — Pasco County could make a big splash with swimmers and wakeboarders by next spring as plans take shape for a lakefront beach at the proposed SunWest county park.

“We’re expecting a quick turnaround” on final revisions of park plans, Commissioner Jack Mariano said.

Before November is over, Mariano expects the park project to go out to bids.

After years of delays, the county wants to move swiftly to start building park facilities at the former limestone mine site, County Administrator Michele Baker said.

That could allow a private wakeboard operator to open his facility by spring at the lake, Baker said. Wakeboard tournaments also could become possible as the county emphasizes sports to increase tourism.

The goal is to have it open by Chasco Fiesta in March, Mariano added about the first phase of the park. The county received millions of dollars from the SunWest mine operator to help reclaim the site.

The concept for the SunWest park was introduced to the public in February 2007.

Originally, the park hinged on regulatory approval from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with a dredging permit to widen and deepen a nearby channel for direct access by boaters to the Gulf. The dredging permit application remains on appeal at the Corps of Engineers office in Atlanta after being rejected by the Jacksonville office.

In May, however, commissioners began the process of redrawing the plan for the park and the lake by shifting the site so it no longer falls under Corps of Engineers wetlands regulation jurisdiction.

Revisions allowed the county to enlarge the lake to about 60 acres.

State environmental regulators are reviewing the Pasco proposal, Mariano said. If they approve, construction could begin soon.

In later phases, Mariano envisions a boardwalk like the one that made John’s Pass Village in Pinellas County so popular with tourists. Sand soccer and volleyball courts could help attract more tournaments. A campground is another possibility.

On Memorial and Independence days, hundreds of beachgoers flocked to the SunWest Harbortowne development on the northern side of the site opposite from the park. That demonstrates the viability of the park concept, Mariano said.

“This will be the ultimate tourist development destination,” Mariano predicted.

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