Efforts continue to extend Ridge Road

It’s been two decades and Pasco County is still waiting on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend Ridge Road — but, a push is on to try to speed things up.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is seeking to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order to accelerate reviews of “high priority” infrastructure projects.

Gus Bilirakis

The extension of Ridge Road, which would create another east/west evacuation route, has long been considered essential by Pasco County government officials.

In an effort to help move things along, Bilirakis sent a letter on Jan. 25 asking President Trump and the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to grant priority status to the project.

The congressman also plans to reach out to Gov. Rick Scott, who has strong ties with Trump. While no formal meeting is scheduled, Bilirakis anticipates a personal appeal, as well, to Trump on Ridge Road. He counts Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, as another potential contact on the matter.

Pasco County commissioners are pressing the issue through Washington D.C.-based lobbyists. They also sent a letter to the governor requesting his support for the project.

“This is a priority for me because it’s a priority for our community,” said Bilirakis. “It’s really a nonpartisan issue. We’re talking about public safety.”

In his letter, Bilirakis cited Hurricane Hermine, which damaged 2,672 homes in Pasco County and, in total, caused $89 million in damages to Pasco County.

A favorable decision on the permit could come from U.S. Army Corps in mid-March, Bilirakis said.

But, if the permit is denied or delayed further, Bilirakis said, “The executive order overrides that.”

Trump’s executive order cites infrastructure projects that “have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.”

A decision on a project’s priority shall be made within 30 days by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, according to the executive order.

However, the council, which was created by President Richard Nixon, currently doesn’t have a chairperson. It’s not known when the Trump administration will appoint someone to fill that position.

Pasco County submitted its application for an 8-mile extension of Ridge Road in 1998. The road dead-ends at Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey. The extension would link to U.S. 41, with a connection to Suncoast Parkway in Land O’ Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues permits based on regulations within the Clean Water Act.

About 58 acres of the 6,000-acre Serenova Preserve are at issue. The land was set aside years ago to mitigate wetlands lost during construction of the parkway. For permit approval, federal law requires a minimum of damage to the environment.

Pasco County had one application rejected for insufficient data.

Dawson & Associates helped county officials with a second application, which is awaiting a final decision.

The county’s budget, for several years, has included about $42 million for the first phase of the project, if approved.

“The good people of Pasco County deserve for this (project) to happen,” Bilirakis said.

Published February 8, 2017

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