Advisory group rails against Honeymoon Island campground

07/06/11 Kate Bradshaw
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A proposal to allow tent and RV camping in Honeymoon Island State Park brought out an estimated one thousand opponents at a public hearing last night. Today state officials met with a smaller group of stakeholders. Many didn’t hold their tongues as they voiced their concern about the proposal.

Outside, it was already shaping up to be a prime day for the droves of beachgoers. But inside the visitor center at Honeymoon Island officials from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection got a chilly reception from the dozen or so stakeholders who saw little or no benefits from the project. On behalf of the Suncoast Sierra Club, Cathy Harrelson said allowing a private company to run the campground, which would likely happen if the plan passes, would deal a symbolic blow to the park.

She said there are several tangible risks as well. Campsites would increase the amount of dogs in the park, and animal waste is a major cause of nitrogen pollution in waterways. Harrelson added that the DEP needs to look at the possible impacts of sea level rise on the plan. She railed against a proposal in the plan to build a separate entry lane for recreational vehicles.

Lew Scruggs, assistant chief of DEP’s Office of Park Planning, defended that proposal.

Tim Deputy, a spokesperson for the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, read a letter opposing the plan on behalf of that organization’s president. He said his group would support a more simple kind of camping in the park.

Four other Florida State parks face similar proposals. These are De Leon Springs, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs, and Fanning Springs. Supporters of the plan say developing an RV camping area at Honeymoon Island would be financially lucrative, but Sierra Club’s Cathy Harrelson said she wanted to see a cost-benefit analysis for the project.

Albert Gregory, chief of DEP’s office of park planning, said the fact that the proposal is still in its infancy makes it nearly impossible to do that, given that the department has no clue as to how much it would charges for admission, among other things.

But opponents are already crunching the numbers on potential costs to the state. Florida Fish and Wildlife Biologist Brie Ochoa said removing dozens of threatened gopher tortoises from the area would have a massive price tag, but the state has to comply with laws meant to protect troubled species.

Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources director Paul Cozzie said another unintended – and potentially costly – consequence of bringing the campsites in is the potential for bad behavior on the part of some campers.

Nearby resident Alan Hildebrand, president of the Royal Stewart Arms Homeowner’s Association, added that large RVs with noisy air conditioners may also diminish the quality of the park.

The proposal did have one fan at the table. Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers Club spokesperson Eileen Burns said campers would be, for the most part, a welcome addition.

Unlike last night’s public hearing, when officials voted seven to two in favor of the proposal, no vote took place today, nor did state officials hear public comment. Instead, state officials said they planned to take into account stakeholder input. The council will vote again on the proposal on August 19th. The governor and his cabinet will also have to sign off on the plan, and Governor Rick Scott has said he supports privatizing some functions of state parks. After that, a lengthy planning and permitting process would likely ensue.

Here's a Last Call show on Honeymoon Island

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