tampabay.com

Brooker Creek flap: 2 different languages

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published May 22, 2007


The funny thing is, nobody even agrees on exactly what they're disagreeing about when it comes to the Brooker Creek Preserve in northeastern Pinellas County.

So when the Pinellas County Commission meets this afternoon to discuss the preserve and to take public comments, there's likely to be some continued miscommunication.

I am as guilty as anybody of perpetuating it. Like other critics, I describe the main issue as whether the County Commission should use 2, 400 acres of the preserve for utility purposes - water plants, wells, pipes and so forth.

But in the county's view, that question isn't even on the table. Of course the county can use that land in the preserve, since it was originally bought by Pinellas County Utilities for that very purpose.

Instead, the county sees matters in precisely the opposite way- the action here is helping the preserve. After all, the county will reserve "only" 2, 400 acres out of the 8, 300-acre preserve for future utility use, when it could have used up to 3, 600 acres.

The second continued miscommunication concerns whether to allow 38 acres of youth recreational fields in the preserve along Old Keystone Road.

To hear the county tell it, not only is the proposed site not "pristine, " it is a virtual Love Canal - after all, there used to be a dairy farm there years ago.

Allow me to quote from an e-mail sent to citizens by Commissioner Ronnie Duncan:

 

[I]f you analyze dairy farm utilization, you will find that it destroys land, almost to a point of no return.

 

No return? There is a perfectly nice planted pine forest on the site that would have to be cleared for the ballfields.

Bottom line: It ain't ruined, but it ain't the irreplaceable Amazon rain forest either. It's just woods that happen to be labeled "preserve."

Same goes for a lot of the Brooker Creek land earmarked for utility use, for that matter. Pleasant, green habitat. Not wasteland.

The third issue is whether the charter or ordinances of Pinellas County should grant a permanent protection to the nonutility part of Brooker Creek and other environmental or park lands.

There's a proposed ordinance to be discussed today. But, frankly, some of the wording seems a little loose. You can see how a cynic could worry.

The ordinance in theory requires an election to dispose of such lands, but includes exceptions for:

- Transfer of rights of way for "critical" infrastructure.

- The transfer to another "governmental unit."

- The exchange of land for "reasonably equivalent" lands.

Many of the citizens who show up today will see themselves as trying to stop the "carving up" of the preserve. They will be speaking to county officials who see themselves as, well, preserving it.

 

Today's public hearing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. in the commission chambers on the fifth floor of the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater. It also will be shown live on the county's cable channel, Pinellas 18.

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