Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Bureaucracy is last barrier to restoring Ocklawaha
Water is the most irresistible force on the planet.
Just a trickle, when turned to ice, can split a massive granite boulder in half.
Floridians are even now being forced to come to grips with the unforgiving nature of water, as sandy beaches and coastal structures alike begin to erode in the face of rising sea levels.
And make no mistake. The sheer weight of water is the reason ‘regulators’ periodically release tons of dirty water from Lake Okeechobee — knowing full well that doing so despoils beaches and scares off the tourists.
It is merely a lack of political will that keeps us from stopping polluters. It is an immutable law of physics that prevents us from forever hiding evidence of their crimes — the filthy water — behind aging earthen berms.
Because levees give way. Dams are breached. It is only a question of time and the corrosive force of water. Water will not be denied. Not even in the face of what is arguably the second most irresistible force in the world.
The reluctance of public employees to do their jobs.
I’ve been saying this for 40 years and I’ll say it again. The Ocklawaha River will once again run free to the St. Johns River and on to the Atlantic Ocean. It is only a matter of time and the weight of water.
Politics used to be the irresistible force that kept the Ocklawaha imprisoned behind the Kirkpatrick Dam. But the foundation of pro-dam politics has been crumbling for years.
The first cracks appeared 45 years ago, when President Richard Nixon finally halted construction of the ‘wicked ditch’ known as the Cross Florida Barge Canal. That should have ended the Ocklawaha’s confinement there and then.
It didn’t. For decades probarge canal dinosaurs in Congress — the likes of William Bennett and Bob Sikes — fought a stubborn holding action in the hope of resurrecting the project. But even Congress bowed to the inevitable in 1990, when it officially deauthorized the project.
Then it fell to the Florida Legislature to defend the indefensible. As governor after governor argued for restoration, lawmakers like the late state Sen. George Kirkpatrick — Patron Saint of Stump Fishermen — managed to keep the Rodman Reservoir intact in defiance of both economic and environmental common sense.
But pro-Rodman pork barrel politics isn’t what it used to be. Rod Smith just discovered that, to his dismay.
During his years in the Florida Senate, Smith sold his green soul in order to keep up Kirkpatrick’s fight against restoration. This was intended to keep Smith in the good graces of Putnam County voters.
When Smith ran for Senate again this year, he naturally assumed his longtime championship of the Rodman would stand him in good stead in Putnam. Imagine Smith’s surprise when he got slaughtered in the reservoir’s home county.
Forget dam politics. Smith wasn’t deemed sufficiently Trumpian to pass muster.
All of which leaves bureaucracy as the last paper-thin line of resistance between the Ocklawaha and its inevitable restoration.
It is a fact that the Rodman Reservoir is illegally occupying federal land. The U.S. Forest Service has for years been asking the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to apply for a new special use permit for the Rodman — and the DEP has steadfastly neglected to do so.. And for good reason. The Forest Service is already on record in stating that the reservoir is causing ‘unacceptable’ damage to wildlife and natural resources. A permit applied for and denied would remove the Ocklawaha’s last obstacle.
That the feds haven’t already evicted this illegal water impoundment is nothing short of dereliction of duty. Much credit to Joe Little, of the Gainesville-based Florida Defenders of the Environment, for filing an administrative challenge this week in an attempt to force the U.S. Forest Service to, finally, do its job.
Eventually it will be a judge who decides the Ocklawaha’s fate. Ultimately, the weight of water, the most powerful force in nature, must surely be allowed to break free of the fragile restraints of politics and bureaucracy.
It’s just a matter of time. — Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.