Efforts continue for Ridge Road permit

The long process of winning approval for a permit to build an 8-mile extension of Ridge Road could yield a decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers within 14 months or less, according to a consulting firm hired by Pasco County.

The Army Corps identified one of 17 proposed routes as “the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” as stated in an April 27 letter to county officials and the Florida Department of Transportation.

Ridge Road dead-ends in west Pasco County at the intersection with Moon Lake Road and Decubellis Road. The county wants to extend Ridge Road from west Pasco to U.S. 41 for an evacuation route.
(Kathy Steele)

“That’s very important,” said Dwight Beranek, senior advisor at Washington D.C.-based Dawson & Associates. “(It) allows the county to focus all of its attention and energy on one project as opposed to 17.”

Beranek gave Pasco County commissioners an update on the status of the county’s permit application at the May 9 meeting in Dade City.

The proposed route would be a four-lane, partially elevated road cutting through a portion of the Serenova Preserve. It would link Ridge Road, which dead-ends at Moon Lake Road and Decubellis Road in New Port Richey, to U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes. The eastern portion would come out opposite Connerton Boulevard, the main entrance into the master-planned community of Connerton. An interchange at Suncoast Parkway also would be built.

Pasco County officials give high priority to the road extension as an evacuation route during hurricanes and other emergencies. But, a permit has eluded them for nearly 19 years at a cost of at least $15 million.

County commissioners on May 2 approved an additional $404,000 for a month-to-month contract with Dawson & Associates.

Environmentalists vehemently oppose the Ridge Road extension, citing potential harm to a conservation area, as well as flooding and water pollution worries. They also say the project is more about opening the Serenova to development than about providing an evacuation route.

A Facebook page, Save the Serenova Preserve from the Road to Nowhere, is a rallying site for opponents who have been meeting on the matter for the past months.

“We will fight this with every legal option at our disposal,” said Tim Martin, chairman of the conservation committee for the Suncoast Sierra Club. “We’re trying to organize resistance. I think a lot of people are frustrated and upset by the developments.”

Dawson & Associates will aid the county in the next months on documents that detail construction and environmental impacts to the route identified by the Army Corps. At the same time, a modification also is needed on a prior permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud.

“There’s a lot of different activities left to be done,” said Beranek. But, he added, that the county is “well-positioned” to move forward to what hopefully will be a favorable decision.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore pushed for a commitment sooner than 14 months to get an updated permit from Swiftmud and construction permit from the Army Corps.

“I don’t see it taking that long,” Moore said.

Published May 17, 2017

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