Latest proposal carves out land in nature preserve
While officials consider a complicated plan, friends and foes get ready to take sides.
By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published May 4, 2007
EAST LAKE - Yet another idea has been proposed to safeguard big parts of the Brooker Creek Preserve. And, like the others, it has fans and foes.
The idea: Pinellas County commissioners would remove 1, 146 acres from the 3, 623 acres purchased years ago by the county's Utilities Department.
The carved-out acreage would be off-limits to any future development - for utilities or otherwise.
The acres would be both north and south of Keystone Road. And a detailed map would be drawn to make it clear to concerned environmentalists exactly where the lines in the sand are drawn.
County utilities would retain 2, 398 acres also north and south of Keystone. And those acres could be used for future utilities projects.
South of Keystone, utilities projects would be limited to pipelines or small structures to protect wellheads on the lands it controls.
North of Keystone, utilities could build whatever is needed on its acreage - water blending facilities, tanks.
And 79 acres north of Keystone that now carry a utilities designation - some small parcels like a sulphur scrubbing plant, as well as the 46 acres already cleared for a blending plant - would no longer be parts of the preserve.
The complicated new proposal, detailed on a map, was unveiled to county commissioners last week by Will Davis, the county's director of environmental management.
While still a work in progress, the plan generally was supported by commissioners, who indicated they favor continuing to refine a new Brooker Creek Preserve map. They hope it will provide clarity.
"It will just stop this battle with this very small group from the community who doesn't want it touched, " Commissioner Susan Latvala said Wednesday.
The "small community" she referred to are environmentalists who have been vocal opponents of any kind of development in the preserve, which they regard as a natural treasure in the urban bay area.
Reaction to the plan has been mixed.
"The ones who spoke to me thanked me for being so progressive and identifying 1, 200 acres of utility land that would not be used in the future for utility uses, " said Pick Talley, utilities director.
But many environmentalists didn't support the new plan. They said they like the preserve's map as it is now - with all the preserve's acres shown in green, the designation for preservation.
They feel separating out acres for utilities sets them up for more intensive development, even for uses such as active recreation.
"That land north of Keystone is some of the most important land in the preserve, " said Mathew Poling, 17, the past senior executive of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve.
"There's a large area of sandhill habitat and there's very little of that left in Pinellas County."
Poling led the Friends in a petition effort a few months ago, presenting commissioners with more than 2, 000 signatures from residents who want to preserve the 8, 300-acre preserve.
Lands set aside for utilities use will no longer be considered part of the preserve, he said, no matter what the map says.
"Right now, all 8, 300 acres are treated the same, " he said. "If this proposal is approved, a large piece of the preserve will be in jeopardy."
His fears may be well-placed.
Latvala said Wednesday she would not oppose more ballfields in addition to the ones already proposed north of Keystone on utilities acres.
"A horse trail, a ballfield are not necessarily permanent, " she said.
"If it ultimately needed to be used for utilities, it could be reclaimed for that purpose."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4170.
On the web
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To watch the Brooker Creek policy part of the recent work session on your computer, go to www.pinellas county.org/media /default.htm and click on BCC Worksession Meeting Video, Tuesday 4/24/07.