Pinellas environmentalists win round in battle to preserve county land
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08/07/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning in Clearwater, the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted down a proposed ordinance that would have established restrictions on the sale or transfer of county-owned parks and environmental lands.

This ordinance contained too many loopholes and changes that could be made too easily and without sufficient input from the public, according to 10 environmentalists who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting.

John Miolla is president of the Homeowners Association of Crescent Oaks, a development adjacent to Brooker Creek Preserve.

“I am optimistic, cautiously, I’m very pleased that they defeated the ordinance because as I said in written comments, the loopholes were large enough for me to fly a 747 through and those loopholes really create an ordinance that has no protections for our environmental lands.”

Many of those who spoke, including some members of Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve, suggested that the County Commission put forward charter amendments that reduce the number of loopholes and make it more difficult for the county to sell or transfer county-owned parks and environmental lands.

Lorraine Margeson is an environmental activist from St. Pete and provided the commissioners with a copy of suggested language for charter amendments.

Margeson suggested that commissioners listen to their constituents.

The environmentalists scored a victory.

The Commission voted unanimously to proceed with a process that could create charter amendments allowing Pinellas County citizens to vote to protect parks and environmental lands.

Commissioner Kenneth Welch was the first to suggest a path that might result in creating amendments to the County Charter that would require a countywide referendum of voters before protected lands are sold.

“We have to listen to the best ideas, no matter where they come from. And I go back and forth with Ms. Margeson on the email. She’s rather combative, and I know that going back years with her, but this is the best idea. And we need to listen to it," Welch said.

"We look at the St. Pete Charter Amendment for protecting the waterfront as a very good example of how powerful that protection is if you build it into your charter. I think we need to emulate that. So I would suggest that we go back, start from square one, and build charter amendments for both preserves, environmental lands, and the parks.”

Commissioner John Morroni also supported letting the voters of Pinellas decide whether to amend the county’s charter.

Walt Hoskins, chairman of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve. was thrilled.

"This is what we’ve been looking for, an open discussion of the issues on how to get real protection for Brooker Creek Preserve and other preserves and environmental lands," Hoskins said. "And we feel that this is a great step forward, that there will be the discussion that needs to be happening. And that’s what we’ve always been asking for. And we believe that public discussion will lead to the right answers to the issues.”

One of the two people who spoke out against stronger protections for parks and environmental lands was Joe Page. He said that environmentalists would never be satisfied and that they used tactics from the playbook of “environmental extremists.”

But John Miolla said that such characterizations did not accurately describe him.

Dawn Ladd is a member of Friends of Brooker Creek and favors more protections for parks and environmental lands.

“They rejected the proposed ordinance, which we’re very happy about. We need to put some teeth in all the regulations, and a charter is the only way to go. We need to have some responsibility for what we’re doing.”

Ladd hopes that if the voters of Pinellas get to vote for charter amendments they will choose to increase protection of environmental lands.

“Well, I think that depends on when it would become a vote for the public. And it would depend on what is going on at that time environmentally, as a community. You know, we might be in a better state in 20 years than we are now because we’re all becoming more conscientious, and I hope that’s the way it goes. … I hope that everyone, if it does ever come up for a vote, votes for charter.”

Miolla thinks Pinellas County voters would pass amendments to the county’s charter.

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to start a process that could lead to voters being able to amend the county charter in order to require a referendum before the county sells or transfers park or environmental lands. To find out more about Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve, visit friendsofbrookercreekpreserve.org.

For more information:

Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve

Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners

Environmental Science Forum

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