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Swiftmud opens pocketbook for the environment


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2000

BROOKSVILLE -- The Southwest Florida Water Management District agreed to put money toward two projects it says should benefit the environment in Hernando County. Swiftmud will pay for half of a $175,000 project to prevent pollution from flowing into the Floridan Aquifer from Blue Sink, a sinkhole northwest of Brooksville.

The district also agreed to pay $1.2-million to buy 436 small lots in northwestern Hernando County as part of the Annutteliga Hammock preservation project.

A study performed more than 10 years ago by the federal government and Swiftmud identified the potential danger presented by Blue Sink, which is on private land about 4 miles northwest of Brooksville.

The drainage basin includes farms, federal land and several miles of U.S. 41. Though tests of the sinkhole have not shown any dangerous levels of pollutants, the concern is that runoff such as pesticides and petroleum products could flow into it unobstructed.

The county hired an engineering firm that, in 1992, drew up a plan for a berm about 1,100 feet long and 18 feet high to be built between the sinkhole and Harris Pond, just to the northeast. This berm would hold the runoff in the pond and prairie around it, forcing it to percolate through soil before entering the aquifer.

Swiftmud, however, has recommended another study, mostly because the old one identified the drainage basin as only 9,000 acres when it is actually about 19,000, said Gene Altman, a Swiftmud engineer.

To receive money from Swiftmud, the county will have to have the project completed in slightly more than 3 years.

Buying the small parcels is part of the effort to piece together the 21,000-acre expanse of the Annutteliga Hammock preservation area.

Most are half-acre plots in the Royal Highlands subdivision, north of Centralia Road, said Ron Daniel, Swiftmud's land acquisition manager. Swiftmud negotiates with property owners for the parcels or bids for them in tax sales, and brings a list of them before the governing board once every six months for approval.

This is the second group of small parcels the governing board has approved, spending $2.1-million on a total of 738 lots covering 419 acres.

The state earlier bought three big parcels that form the foundation of the area -- a 5,242-acre tract in Citrus that was formerly part of the Sugarmill Woods development, 1,585 acres in the Seville subdivision and 930 acres owned by the World Woods Golf Club.

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