Pinellas approves land use change at nature preserve
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05/05/09 Amy Beeman
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

The Pinellas County Commission met this morning in Clearwater to vote on the controversial amendments that would allow utility companies to use a portion of Brooker Creek Preserve for its water supply facilities.

The Pinellas County Commission passed four amendments today, allowing Pinellas County Utilities and Tampa Bay Water to use a portion of the 8,300 acres that make up Brooker Creek Preserve, the largest nature preserve in Pinellas County. Overlays were established, setting boundaries as to where the utility companies will be able to erect structures over the next several decades.

The utility companies own 40 percent of the land, and have allowed it to be kept as a nature preserve. The county agreed today to established overlays, or areas allotted for certain types of water structures, on a 2,600 acre area. However they said only 260 acres within that area will actually be used. The large acreage was established because the companies are not sure exactly where they will put the new structures.

Pinellas County residents spoke for and against the proposed amendments, which clarified just how much land would be used, and in what parts of the preserve.

Largo resident Mark Klutho spoke out against the amendments, saying the preserve should be protected against any development.

Pinellas County resident Joe Page said that while preservation is important, not all land is worthy of being protected. He said there is no scientific evidence that it is important to preserve all of the land, and that humans have as much need of the land as do the plants and animals that inhabit the preserve.

Allyn Childress is the chairperson for Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve, an organization that works to protect the preserve for future generations. She said the group supports the proposed amendments, as the utility companies have been helpful in the preservation of the land, and have conceded to leave much of the land undeveloped.

County Commissioner Susan Latvala emphasized the struggle the Commission has had with this issue, saying that there is a need to find balance between the public’s need for potable water, and its desire to protect the nature preserve.

Latvala said that with the new amendments, the public will at least have a grasp of how much land may need to be used for future utility needs.

David Healy, executive director of the Pinellas Planning Council, disagreed. He said while the group is mostly supportive of the needs of the utility companies, they don’t think it’s a good idea to reserve land without a concrete plan for its use.

Pinellas County Utilities and Tampa Bay water anticipate using the land for wellfields, below-ground structures and minor aboveground structures. Vertical structures may also be built, but would require approval by the Commission at a public hearing, which would be preceded by two public meetings where citizens could review plans and voice comments or concerns.

Under the new amendments, any structures built will be used to supply water to Pinellas County.

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