Water department denies access to Cone Ranch
December 15, 2009
Proving the value of the Cone Ranch property and why Hillsborough County should restore and protect it requires leg work, some say.
"You don't even know the value and the issues with the land unless you are monitoring its health and the animal and plant species on it," said Lorraine Margeson, an experienced birder and environmentalist who requested permission to go onto the ranch to conduct such a survey.
The Hillsborough County Water Resource Services Department, which controls the property, is denying public access, citing a lack of staff to accompany visitors.
General Manager Randy Sears also cited liability in letting the public in, even though Margeson, who has done similar environmental surveys for Pinellas County, offered to waive liability.
"I volunteered weeks ago to get a group of experienced, good people in there to do a comprehensive survey of the entire parcel and be willing to sign waivers of liability, which we do here in our county," Margeson said.
"There is no doubt in my mind it's a place that needs to be preserved," the St. Petersburg resident said. "It's just really ignorant on the part of the utility to keep this large parcel of land in the toilet, with no management ... and no assessment."
The Hillsborough County Commission will discuss the ranch's fate Wednesday, when members debate whether to have the county's conservation program pursue purchase of the 12,800-acre ranch.
The Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program advisory panel ranked Cone Ranch as its No. 1 priority for acquisition after a group of investors proposed selling off most of the land to private buyers.
"If ELAPP owns it, we can have public access, which is not allowed now," said Mariella Smith, a member of the Sierra Club and a member of the ELAPP panel. "There is no doubt ELAPP would be better stewards.
"Keeping the public off this land highlights that Water Resources is not the best steward. It's vulnerable to all manner of cockamamie schemes. Most importantly is that Water Resources prohibits restoration of the wetlands."
On the flip side, said Kent Bailey, who lives near the ranch, ELAPP would encourage birders and other people to do wildlife inventories.
"The ranch is in danger," Smith said. "Two years ago, people had to fight hard against Championship Park on that property," she said, referring to Commissioner Jim Norman's vision for a regional recreation facility. "It's time to settle this and go with the panel recommendation."
Back to Tampa Tribune Page. . .
Back to Home Page. . .