Delay appears likely on Ridge Road extension permit

Pasco County officials were hoping for a decision on a permit, and a construction start for the proposed Ridge Road extension by winter 2018. Instead, a revised schedule provided to the United States Army Corps of Engineers projects the anticipated permit decision in late February 2019.

Despite the revised time frame, Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles remains hopeful of a quicker decision.

“I still think there’s a way to get there this year,” Biles said.

Ridge Road currently dead-ends at Moon Lake Road in west Pasco. Pasco County wants to extend the road eastward to U.S. 41 to provide a hurricane evacuation route. (File)

Pasco is whittling down a checklist of additional information requested by the Army Corps in May 2017.

Monthly status reports are provided to the Army Corps and weekly conference calls are held.

Biles said he was set to meet with Army Corps representatives on June 15 in Cocoa Beach.

Members of the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization got a brief update on the project at their June 14 meeting in New Port Richey.

A May 3 letter to the Army Corps, with the new schedule, was included in an agenda packet for the meeting.

The county has been on a quest for the Ridge Road extension permit for nearly 20 years. The roadwork would entail an 8-mile extension of Ridge Road, which currently dead-ends at Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey.

The new segment would link Moon Lake to U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes, across from an entrance into the master-planned community of Connerton.

The county puts a priority on Ridge Road as an east-west evacuation route during hurricanes.

Environmentalists are fighting against the project, which would cut through environmentally sensitive wetlands in Serenova Preserve.

The Army Corps is the federal agency in charge of regulating the Clean Water Act. In April, the agency selected one of 17 proposed routes through the Serenova Preserve as “the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”

But, the Army Corps requested additional engineering and environmental information, including wetlands mitigation plans.

In March, Pasco County commissioners approved a wetlands credit purchase agreement with Ecosystem Investment Partners Credit Co., for up to $4.4 million. The Florida Turnpike Enterprise would pay a portion of the costs.

The credits would come from the Old Florida Mitigation Bank, located south of State Road 52 and east of U.S. 41, adjacent to the Connerton Preserve.

The route under review was set aside in a court settlement years ago to mitigate about 200 acres of wetlands lost during construction of the Suncoast Parkway.

Opponents of the road extension say the county’s road project violates that agreement. They also maintain the road is meant to encourage new development, and will destroy wildlife habitats.

Attorneys for the Save the Serenova Coalition have submitted documents in opposition to Ridge Road. Coalition members have said they would file a lawsuit, if the Army Corps grants the permit.

Published June 20, 2018

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