Nuclear plant, turnpike loom for laid-back Levy coast


Gwen Dehass fishes near the Gulf Sunday afternoon just downstream from the Crystal River power plant near Inglis. Dehass was out fishing with her close friend Paul Reinhart, not pictured, as part of a weekly trip to the fishing spot that they say is one of the best around.

BRANDON KRUSE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

INGLIS - This small Levy County town infamously issued a proclamation banning Satan more than six years ago.

Facts

Proposed changes near Inglis

TURNPIKE EXTENSION

The Suncoast Parkway, a toll road that runs from the Veterans Expressway in Tampa to U.S. 98 near the Hernando-Citrus county line, would be extended to U.S. 19 near Red Level, just south of the Levy County line.

The project has faced longtime opposition, and obstacles remain such as how the road would pass through conservation areas and near subdivisions.

The project is now in the design phase. A tentative schedule has a feasibility study being conducted in 2010.



LIMESTONE MINE

Fort Lauderdale-based Tarmac America is proposing nearly 4,800-acre limestone mine on a 9,400-acre site owned by Plum Creek Timberlands about two miles north of Inglis.

Mine would remove from 3 million to 6 million tons of material a year, require 500 to 1,000 truck trips a day and use 22 million gallons of water a day. Water would be used to wash material and most would be returned to the aquifer.

Levy County planning commission tabled the applicant's bid for a special-use permit earlier this month. It is expected to consider the plan again in February or March.



HYDROELECTRIC POWER PLANT

Inglis Hydropower is proposing a 2-megawatt power plant on the Withlacoochee River in Inglis. The site is on the south side of the Inglis bypass channel spillway.

The company based in Dover, a town east of Tampa, would still need to get approval to lease the site from the state and obtain environmental permits.



NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Progress Energy Florida is proposing a nuclear power plant on 3,000 acres in southern Levy County. The project is about two miles from Inglis and seven miles from Progress' existing nuclear plant near Crystal River.

The plant could include two nuclear reactors, each producing 1,100 megawatts of energy and cost more than $6 billion.

An application could be filed in 2008, but a lengthy permitting process means construction would likely not begin until at least 2010 and be completed in 2016.

Development is proving harder to keep away.

There's no less than four major projects proposed within five miles of town: a 4,800-acre limestone mine, a hydroelectric power plant, a nuclear power plant and a turnpike extension.

Some residents question whether the projects would ruin a region known for its natural beauty.

"This is called the Nature Coast," said Inglis resident Edward Michaels. "If we keep doing all the things we're doing, it's going to be the ghost coast."

Inglis is an unlikely place to play a significant role in the state's growth. A town of about 1,600 residents, it's the type of place where Town Council meetings sometimes include a break for cookies and punch.

For years, the town's claim to fame was that Elvis Presley filmed the 1962 movie "Follow That Dream" there. That was until longtime Mayor Carolyn Risher issued the 2001 proclamation banning Satan, which received international media attention and a memorable piece on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Risher said she has some concerns about the various projects, such as the mine's impact on groundwater. But she said she's generally supportive of growth, which she considers an unstoppable force that residents should try to positively influence.

"We're not going to take off our boxing gloves and run away," she said. "We've got to stand in the corner and try to talk about it."

Town Councilwoman Betty Berger has shown that a small-town resident can stop big projects. She spent a decade battling a Gainesville company's plan for a hydroelectric plant in Inglis, before the project was effectively killed in 2002.

Berger is now 88 years old and said she still has plenty of fight left in her. She objects to the latest hydroelectric project and is rallying opposition against the mine, which she believes will have a detrimental effect on traffic and water quality.

She said developers sometimes propose high-impact projects in the area because they wrongly think residents will be too timid to ask hard questions.

"They think that everyone has their heads in the sand," she said.

All four projects are tied in one way or another to the state's explosive growth. The mine project would produce material for road building within 100 miles, such as an extension of the Suncoast Parkway turnpike that would end in nearby Red Level.

Tallahassee attorney Jake Varn, who represents the mining project, said the Inglis wells could drop an inch or two from the project, but water quality wouldn't be affected. He said he sympathized with residents who were worried about the truck traffic, but said the roads have the capacity for such traffic.

There is no way around locating the project in the area, he said. "You have to go where the rock is," he said. "Mother Nature put it in certain locations."

The project is needed because of the closing of 6,000 acres of Dade County's Lake Belt mining area by a federal judge, said Doug Calloway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation. The judge ruled the mining could threaten the drinking water supply.

Calloway supports mining projects for helping build roads. He said opponents of road projects advocate a "reverse Kevin Costner" - claiming if the projects aren't built, people won't come. "I've got news for you - even with a slowdown in our economy and a slowdown in our growth, (Florida is) still getting 1,000 people a day," he said.

But opponents say they aren't claiming they can stop growth - just that the rural area of southern Levy County is the wrong place for it.

Save Our Suwannee President Annette Long, who lives in Levy County near Chiefland, said she's concerned about the project's impact on wildlife habitat and water quality. She worries the projects will create environmental changes that are impossible to reverse.

"Once the mine and the power plant come in, they're always going to be here," she said. "Once it's done, it's done."

Progress Energy already operates a nuclear power plant about five miles south of Inglis. The utility is proposing a second plant two miles north of town, but the project still needs to navigate through a permitting process that could last a decade.

Progress spokesman Buddy Eller said the need for a new power plant in being driven by growth in the 35 counties served by the utility. It projects demand for electricity will grow 25 percent in the next decade.

"We will need every source to meet that demand," he said.

Along those same lines, Dean Edwards, a businessman from the Central Florida town of Dover, is proposing a hydroelectric plant near the same site where Berger helped stop a similar plan.

Edwards said the plant would produce just 2 megawatts of electricity - or enough to serve the yearly energy needs of about 1,000 homes. But he said even the small contribution will help reduce the climate change-causing gases released in the state's coal-fired power plants.

He said he hopes to avoid the mistakes of the previous plan, meeting with Berger and holding a public meeting last month in the Inglis Community Center. "My attitude is that if this is going to happen, it's not going to happen without local people having some input," he said.

The community center was packed with residents last month for a meeting of opponents of the mining project.

Environmental advocates say the fact that so many high-impact projects are happening in the same area complicates their efforts.

"Which one do you pick? That's the thing - it's a central assault," Long said. "Everyone really needs Levy County, don't they?"

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville sun.com.

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