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Brooker water off limits, for now

Pinellas proposed pumping from a preserve to water golf courses, but now officials say they need to talk to residents and Swiftmud.

Published June 3, 2006

EAST LAKE - Environmentalists spoke, and Pinellas County officials listened -- again.

County Administrator Steve Spratt this week stepped back from a controversial proposal to reopen three wells at the Brooker Creek Preserve and use the water on golf courses at East Lake Woodlands.

County officials asked the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, to suspend its review of the county's request to reopen the wells.

This is the second time this year that opposition has persuaded county officials to reconsider a proposal for environmentally sensitive lands.

In February, a public outcry killed plans to bring a 225-seat restaurant, beer sales and other amenities to Fort De Soto Park.

Told of the delay at Brooker Creek, an outspoken opponent was giddy.

"I am shocked,'' environmental activist Lorraine Margeson of St. Petersburg said Friday. "Utterly and completely shocked.''

Spratt gave two reasons for the delay.

One was to take the project to the county's Environmental Science Forum. He wants to use the new forum to work with residents, get the facts out, answer questions and listen to concerns.

"We really want to improve our dialogue in a new way,'' Spratt said Friday.

Margeson said she is eager to try.

"Hopefully, this will engender a real change in the way we are doing business at the level of county government,'' she said.

Spratt's other reason was to reassure Swiftmud.

The water management district recently told the county that pipeline pressure tests performed at one of the wells last fall deviated from what the agency had authorized. County officials tested a different pump than was authorized, at a later date than authorized and did not provide Swiftmud with complete testing records as required, the agency said.

"I have directed the utilities department to go back and double-check all of the field work and documentation,'' Spratt said, "to make sure Swiftmud is comfortable with the procedures followed and the documentation of the work.''

Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said the agency will return the county's permit application within 30 days of receiving it with additional questions. At that time, he said, the county can request a 120-day extension of the time allowed for its response, effectively delaying the process.

County utilities director Pick Talley sent a letter to the Friends of Brooker Creek on Thursday notifying the group of the latest developments.

Mathew Poling, the 16-year-old senior executive of the Friends, said he has mixed feelings about the news. He's happy the county is taking a closer look at the pumping.

"But I don't know whether this means they are not going to do it,'' he said, "or whether this is just a temporary thing."

Spratt said scientists have told him the pumping would not harm the preserve.

"Wait and see,'' Poling said. "It's not over till it's over.''

[Last modified June 3, 2006, 06:06:21]

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