Developers, environmentalists at odds about proposed Terra Ceia development
A small group of landowners has proposed developing a resort and marine center along Tampa Bay at the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. As proposed, the development would be hinged on a land swap with the state. Some environmentalists worry that building would be harmful to the areaâs ecology.
Owners of the private land want to give the state just shy of 1,000 acres. In return they are asking the state to hand over only 77 acres. And the tract of land on the table for the stateâs taking is one theyâve wanted for a while. But the Sierra Clubâs Sandra Ripberger cautioned that giving developers what they need to build might damage the fragile marine habitat.
âTerra Ceia is one of the preserves that has been set aside for, not only the sea grass, but for the habitat, the fisheries. I understand thereâs â Iâve eaten clams from Terra Ceia. Thereâs a clam-farming facility. The water is quite clean and itâs doubtful that it would remain so. Certainly the construction would cause a lot of turbulence that would probably impact sea grass away from the fill area also.â
Thereâs a reason the landowners are offering more acres than they would be getting. They own the Knott-Cowen Tract and Rattlesnake Key, which can only be reached by boat, while the acreage theyâre asking for is more accessible. Honey Rand is the spokesperson for the owners. She said they want the swap to protect the areaâs ecosystem.
âThe Knott-Cowen has rights associated with it and it can be built on. Rattlesnake Key can be built. The project that theyâve developed at this point would be magnificent and it would be located in the most disturbed area, but itâs just that it would be a much different looking project if it was located strictly on the Knott-Cowen tract and/or on Rattlesnake Key.â
Rand calls the area disturbed because it was impacted by construction of the Skyway Bridge. She claims that harming sea grass isnât an issue because there isnât much there anyway. But Sandra Ripberger from the Sierra Club doesnât buy that entire argument.
âIt is disturbed because they built the Skyway Bridge there, but it hasnât been disturbed for a while and some of the sea grass definitely has re-grown and some has been planted as mitigation in some of those areas.â
One of the landowners, Brightman Logan, also owns a native plant nursery. Other owners include Tampa land use attorney David Smolker and businessman Bill Blanchard. Their spokesperson Rand said none of them want to see harm done to the bay.
âMost of the people who have invested in this â these guys are fisherman, their outdoorsmen and women and these are people who grew up here, who love Floridaâs environment. Thatâs how the whole concept of moving to the most disturbed area camp up.â
And the Sierra Clubâs Sandra Ripberger isnât just concerned about the developmentâs environmental impacts. Sheâs also worried about the environmentâs eventual impacts on the development.
âThis is an area of rising sea levels and thereâs no doubt about that. Thereâs argument about the cause, but the sea levels are rising and this is a coastal high-hazard area. It just seems very unwise to put structures there at this point.â
Despite concerns, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is interested in taking a look at the proposal. Suzanne Cooper is the principal planner for the groupâs Agency on Bay Management.
âThe developers, or proposed developers, of the Terra Ceia area project had been asked to come and present their project to the Agency on Bay Management which is Tampa Bay Regional Planning Councilâs natural resources committee and they have declined so far because they say that they are not yet ready to go out into the public with their development proposal â theyâre still refining it and figuring out what to do on the site and with the land swap.â
In their original and only proposal to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection last year, owners called the development the Skyway Resort. But there have been changes to the plan, including the name. Now theyâre calling it the Skyway Preserve. Their spokesperson Honey Rand said changes like that are why the project is at a stand still for now.
âThe owners were ready to go start talking to people about it. I had a whole list of groups and clubs and interested parties and others that we were going to go talk to and say âhey, what do you think about this?â It was supposed to happen about mid-January. And there was one of those charrettes, remember I told you? They go in and they talk to all these experts. They went to a charette with a world renowned expert in developing marine type facilities and I got a phone call from somebody that said, âdonât go out with that, we have a better plan.â Which is exactly whatâs happened over the last five years.â
The plan also includes a marine mammal teaching hospital. Critics say the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota are enough to support those needs in this region. But in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times in response to an editorial that criticized his groupâs plans, Bill Blanchard said thereâs a lack of marine mammal rescue centers. He also called the land swap a âgood deal for everyoneâ and wrote that the project would be both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.comments powered by Disqus