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Enterprise zone moves to barge canal

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Near area planned for Port Citrus

By Pat Faherty

 

LECANTO — Most of Citrus County’s enterprise zone will end up around the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the area planned for Port Citrus. 

The Citrus County Economic Development Council approved the new location Thursday. It includes a second, much smaller area east of U.S. 19 and south of West Longfellow Street in Homosassa.

The canal site is approximately 9.26 square miles and involves seven property owners.

Designation as an enterprise zone offers state tax exemptions to businesses coming in or local businesses expanding in the zone. Statewide, many cities and counties also offer local incentives, including funds for capital projects.

“We reviewed a number of locations in the county,” EDC Executive Director John Siefert said. “The criteria established by the state is limiting, so we have come up with other options.”

Eric Williams, with Citrus County government, explained that Census “block groups” are used for determining that criteria and in the entire county only four block groups that could be developed meet that criteria. He said the strip of undeveloped commercial land in the U.S. 19 corridor adds diversity to the zone.

 “This is an additional argument for long-term regional growth with Suncoast Parkway,” state Rep. Jimmie T. Smith said. “We are obviously looking at the long-term growth of the region.”

“This varies from where we started,” board member Kevin Cunningham said. “We still want to develop Inverness Airport and are fighting a battle to get infrastructure there. You picked out two pieces of property that are competing with Inverness Airport.”

Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Josh Wooten said they were stunned when the Inverness Airport did not work out. The County Road 491 medical corridor and the Crystal River Airport had also been considered.

Siefert said the zone would be a big factor to get a gypsum plant up and running faster. Last year USG purchased a 177-acre site in that area and has a contract with Progress Energy Florida for its entire output of synthetic gypsum from the Crystal River power plants.

EDC President Joe Meek said it would go to the Board of County Commissioners for approval on Dec. 12 and a nine-member authority would be created to oversee the zone. Prior to that meeting, it will go the Planning and Development Commission.

The EDC board also supported sending a joint letter from the EDC and the chamber to Duke Energy asking about its plans for the Crystal River nuclear plant (CR3), requesting more communication with the utility. Duke recently merged with Progress Energy Florida and is contemplating whether to repair the nuclear power plant.

Earlier this week, Duke Energy President/CEO Jim Rogers told an industry conference they have to make a decision on CR3 that minimizes the construction risks and the regulatory risks. He said they might also have to come up with a low-cost alternative for their customers in Florida.

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.