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Proposal draws Kirk's interest
A project planned for Odessa catches the ex-governor's eye.
By MOLLY MOORHEAD, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007
Claude Kirk, second from left, was governor of Florida from 1967 to 1971.
The e-mail opposed a 20-acre industrial project in Odessa. It arrived Monday evening. Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher read it the next morning. But until a reporter inquired, he hadn't focused on the sender.
"The former governor?" asked Gallagher. "The Claude Kirk?"
Yes, it was the Claude Kirk.
So why is an 81-year-old former governor who lives in West Palm Beach asking about a site plan approval in Pasco?
Kirk has friends who live in Hillsborough County on land abutting the project.
He has a soft spot for environmental causes, and he believes Coastal Caisson's planned development will do harm to the land.
Plus, his position as elder statesman entitles him to a certain level of official notice.
Or does it?
Kirk was governor of Florida from 1967 to 1971, the first Republican to hold the office in 90 years. He became known for his quirky style, but he also oversaw a revision of the state Constitution and the creation of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
On Tuesday, he called that agency "my baby," which does a little to explain his interest in Coastal Caisson's 20-acre development.
The company, which builds foundations for bridges, power plants and condo towers, wants to move its headquarters from Clearwater to the Odessa Industrial Park near Gunn Highway. President Chuck Puccini said the new site would have an office and a 40,000-square-foot workshop. Plans submitted to the county also mention a storage building, a wash-down area and a crane.
With the expansion, the company plans to add about 30 jobs in the next year, Puccini said.
To build it, the company needs approval from the county's Development Review Committee, which is set to vote on the plans Thursday. County staff have recommended approval, with some conditions.
Enter Kirk. He wants Thursday's vote to be delayed so that he can talk to Gallagher about his concerns. He thinks the company isn't being completely frank about the scope of its project.
"The representation that this is just a lemonade stand is not correct," Kirk said in an interview.
Kirk is somewhat short on specifics, but he cites noise and water pollution from the heavy-duty process involved in cleaning the construction equipment.
He has been working with James and Helen Rosburg, who own 85 acres of preserved land off Byrd Drive next to the industrial site. The couple live there in a 22,000-square-foot antebellum home that Helen Rosburg designed, and they keep careful watch on the many animals that roam their property.
"We're so afraid for the cypress hammocks and the groundwater and all the environmental issues," said Helen Rosburg, 58.
She said they found out about the project only recently, so they hired a lawyer and they called Kirk, who was the next-door neighbor of a boy Helen dated as a teenager in Palm Beach.
Kirk said he'll come to Thursday's hearing if he doesn't get the promise of a delay.
It appears that an appearance by the former governor will be necessary.
Gallagher said the committee, which he heads, will consider a delay if shown good reason.
"Somebody's got to present evidence sufficient enough to raise questions," Gallagher said.
Staff writers David DeCamp and Chuin-Wei Yap contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.