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Parkway foes come knocking

Opponents of the Citrus leg of the Suncoast Parkway plan a door-to-door blitz to find allies.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


HOMOSASSA -- They have circulated petitions, organized forums, complained to public officials, even staged a funeral. The people who oppose the Suncoast Parkway are nothing if not persistent.

So, what's next? A door-to-door campaign.

Sometime in October, the Sierra Club plans a one-day Citrus blitz. Volunteers from the club and other organizations will fan out, distributing postcards that people can mail to the County Commission.

"The County Commission can pull the plug on this project and the County Commission has the responsibility to listen to the voters and not just the chamber (of commerce) and the development community," said Beth Connor from the Sierra Club's office in St. Petersburg.

Although the state, not the county, would build the parkway, the County Commission's position is unquestionably significant. Commissioners support extending the parkway through Citrus, generally saying that county roads would be overburdened if the highway stops at U.S. 98, its current northern terminus.

Other proponents, including the organized business community, say the parkway will help Citrus and become an important part of a regional transportation network.

But commissioners certainly recognize the vocal opposition. More then 5,000 people have signed antiparkway petitions and hundreds have attended forums to show their support for the cause. Groups such as Sierra and COST (Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway) haven't been shy about sharing their opinions to any office holder who will listen.

Last month, parkway opponents held a "funeral" during the parkway's opening ceremony at U.S. 98. They mourned the loss of their quality of life, low crime rate, endangered species -- things they say will be lost because of the new road.

The state has not decided whether it will build the proposed Citrus leg, which would extend from U.S. 98 to U.S. 19 north of Crystal River. Planners are re-evaluating the possible Citrus route and conducting another environmental review.

As the state continues studying, the antiparkway people continue pressing.

Final plans for the October door-to-door campaign will be announced soon, Connor said. Volunteers will leave cards on residential doors, although the people will be willing to discuss the road if residents wish to do so.

Last week, Connor and some other antiparkway allies met for more than an hour with top staffers from the governor's office and the Department of Transportation. Connor said she and her colleagues explained their position and demonstrated how, in their view, the road is unnecessary and environmentally unsound.

Separately, an antiparkway lawsuit remains under consideration in the federal courts. And COST leader Janet Masaoy and Sierra Club attorney Lesley Blackner are gearing up to speak Saturday at a political club forum near Sugarmill Woods. Also speaking will be County Commissioner Josh Wooten and Kevin Thibault from the Turnpike District.

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