Patience dwindling on Ridge Road

When it comes to the extension of Ridge Road, one Pasco County commissioner said it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore wants an answer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project by mid-May, or he’s ready to drop it.

The county has been waiting for 16 years for a permit on the project.

Moore reluctantly joined other commissioners on March 29 to approve a new consultants’ contract to pursue the permit, but said his tolerance is waning.

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

“I can’t continue this year after year,” Moore said. “I can’t continue even six months to give more and more funds (to a project) that I don’t know is going to happen.”

Moore signaled earlier that he had concerns about a six-month extension to a contract with consultants at Dawson & Associates.

The firm, based in Washington D.C., is helping steer the county’s permit application through the rules and regulations of multiple federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the time, commissioners agreed to the contract extension, but lowered the monthly payments of $38,500 down to $28,500.

The new contract is for one year, retroactive to February 2016, with the potential for month-to-month extensions for an additional three months. The fee remained unchanged.

The contract can be terminated with 30 days’ notice.

Dawson & Associates have submitted a new road design, with more bridges, that is part of a packet under review by the federal agency.

The agency is expected to respond within a month or so, said Dwight Beranek, senior advisor with Dawson & Associates.

“We’re seeing continuous progress, and even accelerated progress, in these last months,” he said.

The federal agency rejected the county’s permit application in April 2015, citing insufficient data and analysis of 17 construction alternatives.

Additional information and the modification of one alternative have been provided, but the application remains in the bureaucratic pipeline.

The 8-mile extension is viewed as high priority as a hurricane evacuation route, and as an additional east/west connector. But, there are objections about environmental damage to the area, and additional harm if more development is encouraged.

The road would run through about 58 acres of the 6,000-acre Serenova Preserve, set aside years ago to mitigate wetlands lost during construction of the Suncoast Parkway.

The road currently dead-ends at Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey.

The extension would link to U.S. 41, with a route to the parkway in Land O’ Lakes. There would be no access to the preserve from the road extension.

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

Pasco County Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey also expressed frustration with the lengthy process.

Pasco’s application is believed to be the longest pending permit request in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s history, but Starkey said delays aren’t unusual.
“This is a major problem with the Army Corps. It’s not just the county,” she said. “We’re not the only ones going through this.”

In agreeing to the new contract, Moore issued an ultimatum:

“I’m giving you (Dawson & Associates) until mid-May, or I’m done.”

Published April 13, 2016

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