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Progress Energy's tactics are distasteful

A Times Editorial
Published February 20, 2008


Progress Energy has managed to offend both nature lovers and Pinellas County officials - who haven't been on the same side much lately - by floating the idea of clear-cutting a half-mile wide transmission line corridor through the Brooker Creek Preserve.

The way the power company approached the proposal was especially distasteful: without a public meeting and offering what is, in effect, a bribe to persuade county officials to look favorably on the idea.

Come on, Progress Energy, you have to do better than this.

It is true that Florida needs to generate more electric power for the future. Progress Energy is responding to that need by exploring the possibility of building a new nuclear power plant in Levy County and distributing the electricity across west central Florida through high-voltage transmission lines.

It also is true that finding places to locate those transmission lines will be difficult, especially in densely developed areas like Pinellas County. Yet, is the best solution to level a half-mile wide swath of trees and wildlife habitat in the county's most treasured preserve?

There is already a 500-foot-wide power line corridor with 140-foot-tall towers extending north to south through the east side of Brooker Creek Preserve, parallel to the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line. From the air, it looks like a scar through a wide mat of green.

Progress Energy's idea is to increase that existing power line corridor to about a half-mile wide - that is about 2,600 feet - and erect another string of towers 165 feet tall to carry power from the new nuclear plant.

It isn't just Pinellas that would have such transmission corridors. A map obtained by the St. Petersburg Times also shows potential corridors a half-mile wide or wider crisscrossing Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, including one possibly crossing the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco.

Pinellas officials learned about the potential for such a corridor in the Brooker Creek Preserve in private talks with the power company and its consultant, Biological Research Associates of Riverview, which was hired to gather information about environmental lands that might be affected by the proposed corridors. Pinellas officials were dismayed.

"I cannot express our protests strongly enough," said Dr. Bruce Rinker, director the county environmental lands division. "The (Brooker Creek) preserve and all other environmental lands are points of pride for our citizens, acquired and managed over the past 30 years. There is no substitute for their ecological, aesthetic and ethical benefits."

Rinker's comments came after the consultant, instructed to look for a "win-win" solution, asked the county to create a wish list of items the power company might be able to provide in exchange for the right to march its transmission towers through the preserve.

As appalling as that tactic is - essentially, the utility would be paying off the county for the right to destroy the natural beauty and value of about 1,549 acres of the 8,300-acre preserve - the county set about creating a long wish list. Rinker says the list was created merely to show Progress Energy that the idea is ridiculous. It includes items such as firefighting equipment; reimbursement for purchases of environmental land; restoration of wetlands in the preserve; funding for 10 law enforcement officers to patrol county preserves; a $3.5-million annual boost for the stretched environmental lands division's operating budget; and reimbursement for the cost of building a water blending plant.

Progress Energy representatives say the map of corridors is merely an exploration of possibilities and is very preliminary, and that new maps are likely to be created in the future. They insist they don't even know yet whether they will build a nuclear plant in Levy County.

However, residents already are concerned, and Progress Energy has scheduled only one meeting in Pinellas to share information: 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Crescent Oaks Country Club, 3300 Crescent Oaks Blvd., in East Lake. Progress Energy should schedule more opportunities to share its "preliminary" plans with Pinellas residents, whose neighborhoods and nature preserves could be seriously affected by such wide transmission corridors.

Progress Energy

This Progress Energy map shows potential transmission line corridors that could stretch through Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties if the utility builds a nuclear power plant in Levy County. The map includes a half-mile wide transmission corridor through the Brooker Creek Preserve.

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[Last modified February 19, 2008, 21:19:49]

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