Timothy Poole waits for fish to take the bait just below the Kirkpatrick Dam at the Rodman Reservoir recreation area February 20, 2009. Poole has been fishing the area for 30 years. The debate continues whether to remove the Kirkpatrick Dam and restore the Ocklawaha River to it’s natural state.
Continue reading for the article by Bill Thompson, Staff Writer for the Gainesville Sun.
The original article appeared HERE in the Gainesville Sun on March 6.
It’s one of the most ambitious undertakings to capitalize on a local man-made wonder – or, some would say, one of the most foolhardy.
The owners of an RV park in Fort McCoy want to construct a 400-slip marina on Rodman Reservoir.
To take further advantage of their proximity to the 9,000-acre waterway, the Lake Ocklawaha RV Park’s owners also want to lay a 3.757-foot-long, 10-foot-wide shoreline boardwalk.
The estimated cost is in the neighborhood of $2 million, according to the contractor.
Opponents assert that the plan, if approved, would severely harm the environment. And, they say, it would also prove to be for naught, and thus should be stopped.
Since the reservoir will eventually be drained, they maintain, hundreds of fishing boats will – literally – be left high and dry.
Yet the project will go forward for now, primarily because the contractor believes the history surrounding the reservoir indicates that the water will be there long after he, and those opposing him, are gone.
Besides reigniting the decades-long battle over the restoration of the Ocklawaha River, the marina proposal has inspired one of the more fevered – and, to a large extent, orchestrated – protest campaigns state water regulators have seen recently.
Official state policy, dating back more than a decade, is to remove Kirkpatrick Dam, the construction of which created the reservoir in 1968 by plugging the river and flooding part of the Ocala National Forest.
Named for the late George Kirkpatrick, a long-serving state senator from Gainesville, the structure was part of the federal government’s attempt to carve a shipping channel across Florida.
The Nixon administration halted that effort in 1971, miring the dam in controversy ever since.
For four decades, environmentalists who want the river restored have philosophically grappled against anglers who don’t want to lose one of the premiere bass-fishing sites in Florida.
In June 1995, Gov. Lawton Chiles ordered state environmental regulators to file for the permits to take down the dam, and they filed the paperwork in 1997.
Dismantling the Kirkpatrick Dam, and returning the Ocklawaha River to its historic channel, has been subsequently supported by the administrations of both former Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Charlie Crist.
Sportsmen, however, have regularly found powerful allies in Tallahassee who have been able to thwart attempts to remove the dam. Lawmakers have flatly refused to fund such an effort, which the Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimates today would cost $21 million.
Like other plans over the past 40 years that promote or preserve fishing on Rodman Reservoir, the proposed marina has stoked the anger and angst of environmentalists.
As of Thursday, state water regulators have fielded more than 510 letters objecting to the project.
Those critics make two basic arguments: that the project would intensify the existing degradation of a waterway already impaired by pollution and nitrate build-up; and the marina flouts long-standing state and federal policies to restore the river.
Letters have been submitted from individuals around the state, including many from Marion County, and from all corners of the country.
The list of foes also includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.
Nick Williams, executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment, a Gainesville-based environmental group that supports removal of the dam, said St. Johns should deny the marina permit.
“We don’t want to spend taxpayer money on a facility that will be torn down,” Williams said, “and it is inconsistent with state policy, which is for restoration.”
But when asked to point out how that interferes with the state’s plan, officials from both DEP and the St. Johns River Water Management District declined to comment because the permit application is still pending.
Rebell Investors Corp., owners of the RV park, and Miner’s Marine Construction, a Palatka-based dock builder, filed the marina application last June. It has plenty of hurdles to clear.
A July 2008 letter from the water district identified 34 separate points for the applicants to address – one of which was demonstrating they have appropriate land-use approval to proceed from the Marion County Commission.
Water regulators, for example, expressed concern about the marina’s potential to harm wetlands, increase pollution in the river and affect navigation, among other problems.
But topping their list was water – or the lack thereof.
“It is unclear how you would operate the proposed docks during partial or complete drawdown of Lake Ocklawaha or if Rodman Dam (sic) is removed, and how much such operation would avoid causing environmental impacts,” the letter said.
Thus, they wanted the developer to demonstrate that “there is adequate water depth at each dock location” and that the docks have “sufficient navigable access … in the event that Rodman Dam is removed.”
The EPA was blunter. In announcing its opposition to the marina last November, federal regulators, in addition to concerns about water quality, observed that “breaching the Rodman Reservoir dam would result in substantially reducing water level at the proposed marina site, making operation of a marina untenable.”
Their state counterparts concurred.
Stanley Inabinet, the DEP’s project manager, said once the river’s natural drainage system is restored, “There will not be any water where the proposed marina is proposed to be located once the river has been freed.”
The RV park operators could not be reached for comment.
But David Miner, owner of Miner’s Marine, the contractor for the $2-million marina, agreed: if the dam goes, there won’t be any water – and that is not a problem.
His plan is to install four 100-slip aluminum floating docks moored to concrete pilings to accommodate fishing boats up to 20 feet long.
“It’s like a giant Erector Set,” Miner said, noting that the docks are “recyclable.” That means if the dam is torn down, the platforms can be unhooked from the pillars and sold for use elsewhere.
Miner also maintains they are more environmentally sound than normal wooden docks because they won’t leach chemicals – and would do less harm than releasing Rodman’s nutrient-laden holdings into the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers, or forcing boaters to park on the shore because they have nowhere else to tie up their boats.
Just as Miner and Rebell must explain in greater detail to state and federal authorities how their project won’t hurt the reservoir, state water managers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers await similar information from the DEP.
Specifically, the DEP must submit final reports on how the river’s health would be affected upon the release of that stored-up reservoir water.
It’s unclear how long that might take.
Osvaldo Collazo, chief of the Corps’ northern permits branch, said the file has languished for so long that DEP’s application to remove Kirkpatrick Dam has been deactivated.
Even when the DEP report is filed, Collazo said, the Corps must review the plan and issue its own environmental impact statement, which he described as a “fairly long process.”
So, there is no way to determine how long it would be before dam would actually be dismantled.
“DEP is continuing to design the restoration such that the restoration will have no negative impact to the water quality of the St. Johns River,” said Doug Tobin, an agency spokesman.
“The design could have a potentially large impact on the river. The water quality studies and action steps are complex, time consuming and require careful review.”
And that, in part, is what Miner and the RV park owners are banking on.