The Hernando County Commission will be tempted today to pull the plug on Linda Pedersen Park. That would be a shame, considering that more than four years of planning and $600,000 has been committed to the park, which is proposed for the Weekiwachee Preserve east of Hernando Beach.
But if the commissioners are having second thoughts and can't find the grit to withstand the lobbying of Hernando Beach-area residents who oppose the park, we urge them to simply put this worthwhile project on hold. During the time that ensues, the commission could more closely re-evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the park and schedule a public hearing in a few months to solicit opinions from other county residents who have not objected.
Dropping the project altogether would be a waste of taxpayers' money. If one combines the money already paid to a consultant for engineering and design of the park, and the money it must reimburse to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the total is upward of $300,000. That doesn't include the huge amount of time put in by the county staff since the commission first embarked on the idea in the summer of 1999. It also would be a significant drain on the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Fund, from which most of the money for the park is being drawn.
Pedersen Park would be a premiere recreational facility. The pristine waters that were created from limerock mining years ago would be complemented by beaches for swimmers and a boat ramp for canoes and kayaks. Walking trails, concession stands, picnic areas and restrooms would be other amenities available to visitors.
The park would be used by residents from all across Hernando County. The County Commission should not sacrifice that potential to satisfy a vocal group of nearby residents whose concerns are primarily parochial and seem to center on adding traffic to the two-lane county road.
County Engineer Charles Mixson has assured the county that with relatively minor improvements to the park's proposed entrance at Shoal Line Boulevard and Blue Fish Drive, traffic would not be a problem. A related byproduct of building Pedersen Park is that it would ease traffic on Pine Island Drive because it would draw some of the people who now visit there for waterfront recreation.
In years past, Commissioner Nancy Robinson was one of the strongest advocates of Pedersen Park. Lines for the commissioners' districts were redrawn earlier this year and Hernando Beach is now in hers. Robinson, just like the other commissioners, represents the entire county and she is obliged do what is best for the majority. It would be disappointing to see her enthusiasm for Pedersen Park wane just to quiet the protests of residents from that area.
If the commission is not prepared to move forward on the park project, it should merely postpone the decision, not cancel the plans entirely. Placing Pedersen park on the back burner until they have a better idea of how other residents feel about it, is a reasonable option. And it is the only will that will assure tax dollars have not just been blown away by the prevailing political winds.