Officials gauge ecological impact of K-Bar annexation
By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
NEW TAMPA -- Two creek beds trickling through K-Bar Ranch in New Tampa form the heart of a narrow wildlife corridor that cuts across northern Hillsborough County into southern Pasco County, according to a state environmental agency.
In a letter sent to the city parks department last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Basset Branch and New River provided "critical linkage" between the Wesley Chapel Lakes Wildlife Preserve and habitat areas in Heritage Isles.
As Tampa debates whether to make K-Bar part of the city, officials asked the commission for comments about the 2,280-acre property.
"The Basset Branch and New River Wetland systems should be preserved and enhanced as wildlife corridors," wrote Brian Barnett, the assistant director of the commission's office of environmental services.
The commission did not conduct an on-site habitat inspection.
Developers of Wesley Chapel Lakes have already set aside almost 65 acres of protected preserves. In addition, about 173 acres of Heritage Isles is designated as upland habitat, and environmentalists are concerned that if land is not protected in K-Bar, the corridor will be disrupted.
"Without it, the larger animals cannot survive," said Lynn McGarvey, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club is asking the city to require buffer zones along the creeks similar to the ones in Grand Hampton -- an upcoming development in New Tampa -- which are between 250 and 1000 feet.
Wild animals naturally use creek beds and wetlands to travel from one place to another, said Bill Smith, a biologist with the state commission.
The city is conducting its own environmental analysis to determine if and where upland habitat exists. Fred Ridley, an attorney for K-Bar's owners, has said his clients intend to be environmentally sensitive.
"(They) are not Johnny-come-lately developers who just came to town," said Ridley. "They have a vested interest in seeing this property succeed.
Currently, dump trucks use a private dirt road that runs east to west through K-Bar. Once the property is developed, construction crews will likely pave over the road and make it a public thoroughfare.
The Conservation Commission recommended planting additional vegetation, much of which has been eaten by cattle, and providing a way for wildlife to cross under the road without disrupting traffic.
-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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