tampabay.com

Should it be the Brooker Creek Utility Preserve?

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published May 13, 2007


The Brooker Creek Preserve occupies a strip of northeastern Pinellas County, with Pasco County just north and Hillsborough to the east. It is owned by the Pinellas government.

More than 7 miles north to south, the preserve takes in about 8, 300 acres. In its interior there are nature trails and an education center.

Recently, you might remember, there have been controversies in which the county wanted to pump the preserve to irrigate a nearby golf course, and to build youth recreational fields there.

But now Pinellas County proposes a far more sweeping change to Brooker Creek - making it official policy that the county could use more than a quarter of the preserve lands, about 2, 400 acres in all, for other purposes.

Those uses include future water-treatment plants, other utility infrastructure projects and well fields, and whatever else the county deemed to be in the public interest.

Almost all of the existing preserve north of Keystone Road would fall into this new category. The county also could use a strip running down the preserve's eastern side, around an existing Progress Energy right of way, for some purposes.

In defending these changes, to be discussed at a County Commission meeting on May 22, the county advances two main arguments.

First, the lands in question were acquired by the county's Utilities Department for precisely these uses. Their inclusion in the preserve was secondary. Even so, the county notes, it is still moving about a third of the utility land into the protected category.

Second, most of the targeted land is not the same wetland ecosystem that exists around the education center and hiking trails. It is often pine-tree upland, reclaimed agricultural land or just scrub.

The other day I knocked around the preserve, first visiting the nature center and hiking the trails, then driving along Keystone Road and Trinity Boulevard.

I pulled off Trinity and took photographs of the pine forest to the south. Pristine or not, it is beautiful green space, and the habitat for many species of plants and animals.

A sign at the border of the land to be redesignated declares: "All Wildlife and Plants Protected." I suppose they will have to change the sign to read, "Except from the County Commission."

The commission workshop on Brooker Creek is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, on the fifth floor of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St. in Clearwater.

If you want to contact the commissioners, their main number is 727 464-3377. Be sweet to the folks answering the phone; they haven't done anything. Here are the commissioners' e-mail addresses:

Ronnie E. Duncan (chairman), rduncan@pinellascounty.org.

Calvin D. Harris, charris@pinellascounty.org.

Robert B. Stewart, rstewart@pinellascounty.org.

Susan Latvala, slatvala@pinellascounty.org.

Karen Williams Seel, kseel@pinellascounty.org.

John Morroni, jmorroni@pinellascounty.org.

Kenneth T. Welch, ktwelch@pinellascounty.org.

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For other comments and photographs about Brooker Creek, please visit my online blog, TroxBlog. Go to www.tampabay.com, click on the "Blogs" link at the bottom-center of the page and look for me on the list.