RODMAN: Move cheered by environmentalists

River's restoration back in federal hands

Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
By DIANE CHUN Sun staff writer In the latest move in a chess match that has lasted nearly 30 years, the state Department of Environmental Protection has returned a special-use permit covering parts of the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Reservoir to the U.S. Forest Service.
About 600 acres of the 9,600-acre reservoir, including part of the dam, are in the Ocala National Forest, and it appears that plans for breaching the dam and restoring the free flow of the Ocklawaha River will now move to the federal arena.
It will take a coordinated effort by several federal agencies, with cooperation from the state, to carry out plans for a project with an estimated price tag of $13.9 million to $15 million.
Rodman Reservoir, also called Lake Ocklawaha, is in Putnam County, 40 miles southeast of Gainesville. It was created in the late 1960s for the Cross Florida Barge Canal, an ill-fated plan to cut a shipping channel through the heart of the state. Environmentalists succeeded in stopping the canal, but bass fishermen continued to support the dam and the fish-rich reservoir.
In 1991, state officials received a special-use permit from the Forest Service so the dam that created the reservoir could temporarily stay on federal land.
After Gov. Jeb Bush came out in favor of restoration of the Ocklawaha River in 2000, DEP officials asked for a new special-use permit, to keep the dam on federal land until restoration was complete. DEP restoration plans called for gradually draining the reservoir, filling in the canal and removing 2,000 feet of the dam, with a final deadline of June 30, 2006.
In a July 19 letter to Marsha Kearney, supervisor of the national forests in Florida, DEP Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard wrote that because the Legislature had not appropriated money for the restoration project, the state could not meet the terms of the permit and was returning it unsigned.
"This opens the door for the U.S. Forest Service to pursue restoration," Ballard's letter continued.
Kearney replied on July 26, noting that the state of Florida and other federal agencies must continue to work together toward the mutual goal of restoring the river.
"It is unfortunate that the state currently is unable to obtain the necessary funding, but I am hopeful that we, in partnership, can pursue other avenues," Kearney's letter stated.
George Hemingway, Rodman project coordinator with the Forest Service, said Wednesday that he expects the project to continue to move forward, but with federal funding.
"We still see good things in that the state isn't just throwing in the towel," Hemingway said. "They will have to be involved in any restoration, and we are looking at several other federal agencies to accomplish the end result of restoration of the river."
Those agencies would include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Forest Service.
"We are looking at forming this Coastal America group, which has provided a means of accomplishing some dam removals in other parts of the United States," Hemingway added. "The Rodman project would probably qualify, and it would put us in a formal agreement to work together on it."
Ed Taylor, president of Save Rodman Reservoir, a Palatka-based group that wants the man-made lake preserved as a prime bass-fishing spot that boosts the local economy, said the fight isn't over.
"This teaming up between the DEP and the Forest Service is an attempt to go around our legislators in Tallahassee," Taylor said Wednesday. "We don't believe that's going to work. I'm not sure we will ever settle this issue politically. Ultimately, it is going to be decided in a court of law."
Kristina Jackson of Florida Defenders of the Environment, chief advocate of restoring the river, said she is pleased that the project will move to the federal arena.
"We think it's a really good thing to bring it up to this federal level, where they have more experience in dam removal and where some of the special interests that were stalling this on the local level become less important," Jackson said.
Jackson concedes that it is unlikely opponents to the project will give up the fight now.
Taylor said his group is still in the game.
"We are waiting for them to schedule a meeting to talk about this, and I promise we will be there," he said.
Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@

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