Advisory Group Slams Florida Park Proposal

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July 7, 2011 by   2 Comments

Less than 10 hours after hundreds jammed a public hearing to slam a plan for a campground at Florida’s most popular state park, a park advisory group met Wednesday (July 6) on Honeymoon Island and mirrored that disapproval.

But, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, no formal vote was taken, because a representative of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which created the Honeymoon Island State Park advisory group, said a vote wasn’t needed.

The plan calls for 45 campsites on 17.5 acres. The advisory group was highly critical of allowing recreational vehicles onto the island, known for its uncrowded beaches and abundant wildlife.

Advisory group members questioned how a strained park staff could deal with swelling crowds, overnight stays and messy campground regulars like dogs and raccoons.

Advisory group representatives from Audubon, the Sierra Club and the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission mentioned dangers for gopher tortoises, which would need to be moved from their burrows to build the campground, and nesting sea turtles, which could be confused by campground lights.

The group also questioned the state’s business sense. Members asked about the camping project’s cost and what the private operators of the campground stood to make off the tax-supported park.

Tim Deputy, an advisory group member from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Florida ARVC), said the state’s plan could hurt private campgrounds, which often must charge more than state parks because they don’t get the benefit of tax funds.

After Albert Gregory, bureau chief of the DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks, said the plan is still “highly conceptual” and devoid of a financial plan, group members remarked that the plan seemed half-baked.

“The risk far outweighs anything that could be a benefit,” said Cathy Harrelson from the Sierra Club. “And we don’t even know the benefits, because we don’t have the numbers.”

The DEP assembled the advisory group last month, a few days after its Acquisition and Restoration Council, a committee reviewing state land matters, approved a plan to open campgrounds in 56 state parks.

Officials in Tallahassee contacted nearby landowners, local governments, and environmental, tourism and recreation groups to recruit candidates for the 14-member volunteer advisory group. This was their first and perhaps only meeting, though the DEP could choose to ask the group to meet again.

The ultimate decision on the campground proposal may lie with the governor and Cabinet, according to the DEP’s Gregory.

If the DEP pushes ahead with it despite the local opposition, he said, then it will go to the Acquisition and Restoration Council for a vote on Aug. 19. However, he said when a project involves heightened public interest, the DEP takes it to the governor and Cabinet for a final decision.

The Pinellas County Commission has joined opponents of the plan, sending a letter to the state this week.

“We do not want camping on this very fragile barrier island in our county,” stated the letter, signed by commission Chairman Susan Latvala.

The environmental impact, she wrote, “will not be worth the few dollars that will be generated.”

Although the Honeymoon Island plan has drawn complaints from state legislators in his own party, Gov. Rick Scott, in an interview on the Political Connections show on Bay News 9 last week, said he still supports the plan to expand camping.

“We’re doing the right thing,” Scott said. “We’re going through, we’re holding public hearings. … We’re doing these public hearings to figure out what the right thing to do is.”

Scott stressed that protecting the environment and quality of parks would be a top priority, no matter who builds the campsites.

Hearings also were being held this week on adding camping to parks in other parts of the state: Tuesday for Wakulla Springs and DeLeon Springs state parks, and Wednesday for Fanning Springs State Park.

No one attending the Wakulla Springs hearing supported the plan, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Either they opposed it or wanted it modified, the paper reported. Those attending the DeLeon Springs meeting also were opposed, according to the Orlando Sentinel, contending that DeLeon already was overwhelmed with human visitors.

Before Wednesday’s Honeymoon Island meeting, a dozen protestors lined up along the Dunedin Causeway. White sheets reading “Save the Park” were hung outside a condominium complex close to the park. One woman held a hand-painted sign reading, “Keep (Gov. Rick) Scott’s Dirty Hands off Honeymoon Island.”

No public comment was allowed at the meeting, but Louise and Ken Blaisse of Dunedin sat quietly in the front row holding a sign that read, “Keep It Natural.” They said they worried the state would ignore the outpouring of local frustration.

“When high-powered Republican legislators asked him (Scott) to approve high-speed rail, he told them to kiss off,” Ken Blaisse said. “You think he’s going to listen to us?”

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2 Responses to “Advisory Group Slams Florida Park Proposal”

  1. Connie Gallant on July 8th, 2011 1:40 pm

    Creating a campground on a state park that is considered a wildlife refuge and/or relatively pristine area is not only a political mistake. It is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. The push for more revenues in state coffers from such misguided plans is short-sighted, and the politicians who promote such plans are not thinking about the protection of our environment, only the protection of their jobs. When these areas get polluted, more monies need to be spent for clean-up and restoration efforts – negating any revenues acquired in the first place.

    We, as RVers, have ample campgrounds to choose from. We do not need to access environmentally sensitive areas that can result in damaging and destroying the beauty we seek to observe.

  2. Van Huddleston on July 8th, 2011 4:31 pm

    I think that rv sites would be a great source of income for the state park system I own a rv and would like to see more parks that offer rv sites There is a right way to go about things so that a compromise is reached It is possible to have camping sites and still not effect the natural habit

    Thank You
    Van Huddleston