Conservancy marshals forces for fight

The group turns to biological consultants to research a proposed 2,263-acre development.

Published April 17, 2007

HUDSON - The Gulf Coast Conservancy, an environmental group in northwest Pasco, has enlisted a team of biological consultants to aid in its fight against a gulfside megadevelopment in Hudson.

PEER Inc., which has offices in Tampa and Sarasota, is starting to research the 2,263-acre SunWest Harbourtowne project.

One of its early recommendations to the conservancy: get an environmental lawyer.

"They're looking at it from an environmental angle, a legal angle and seeing where we might get the best leverage," said Leslie Neumann, a conservancy member.

The move comes as the conservancy prepares for its annual public meeting on Thursday.

Florida black bears dominate this year's agenda.

A newly mounted black bear will be presented at the meeting, said member Julie Wert.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had offered the bear, which was killed on the road, to the conservancy.

The stuffed bear is a memorial to Niki Everett and Linda Pedersen, two former members whose efforts to preserve the Suncoast's small bear population became a rallying point of the conservancy's mission.

The bears' coastal habitat was one reason the conservancy became involved in the opposition to Sun West Acquisition Corp., the developer behind Harbourtowne.

Among other concerns, the environmental group has also spoken out against potential ecological damage posed by the developer's plans to dredge a 10-foot-deep, $6-million canal through the sea grass marshes off north Hudson.

Sun West has employed two former top officials in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Robert Carpenter and John Hall, to push its case.

It has also courted local environmentalists, including Clay Colson, Jennifer Seney and conservancy trustee Mac Davis.

The conservancy is now marshaling PEER's expertise.

"They wanted to have us to look at the 'development of regional impact' process for the Sun West development," said PEER's Julie Morris, referring to the review process triggered by projects with multicounty impact.

Sun West has not yet formally begun that process.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at 813 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

If you go

Gulf Coast Conservancy- What: Annual public meeting- When: 7 p.m. Thursday- Where: The Springs Coast Environmental Education Center, 9170 Cortez Blvd., Weeki Wachee