Muck-monster at work — briefly — on Orange Lake


Frank Taylor with A&L Aquatic Weed Control shreds vegetation near the Heagy-Burry boat ramp on Orange Lake in Orange Lake Monday morning.

Joe Byrnes/Star-Banner
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 8, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.

Dan Sheehan moved to the shores of Orange Lake from Hollywood about a year ago.

He said he knew it would be a good and relatively inexpensive place to live. And, the retiree said, "I figured I could go fishing here … and the lake dried up."

By early summer at the end of a long drought, Orange Lake hit record lows. At Heagy-Burry Park on the lake's southwest side, it shrank to a trickle and disappeared, leaving behind dead fish and a forest of man-sized weeds.

On Monday morning, Sheehan stood against the wooden fence at the park and watched a muck- and weed-spewing machine shred vegetation around the boat ramp — a promising sign that he might get to do some fishing after all.

"I'm glad to see this, though, real glad," Sheehan said.

In recent months — and especially since the deluge brought by Tropical Storm Debby in June — rainfall totals have been up. In May through September, the Gainesville airport measured 13.84 inches more rain than normal.

On Sept. 18, Orange Lake had risen to 49.75 feet above sea level, which was still well below its average of 56.21 for September, St. Johns River Water Management District spokesman Hank Largin said in an email.

The cutter/shredder — a boat equipped with large, spinning blades on the front — nosed its way into weeds and floating vegetation. It sent the shreds of plants and globs of muck flying to the right and left.

The debris will settle to the bottom, break down and oxidize, said Ryan Hamm, an invasive plant management biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He said the vegetation will be cleared around the boat ramp and adjacent fishing pier and in a 50-foot-wide channel out to open water.

The work, which had been expected to take about a week, was interrupted later Monday. FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker said a "glitch" had arisen over the hourly contract with A&L Aquatic Weed Control of Citra.

She didn't know when the work would resumed. It is intended to improve access for boaters.

"If they want to recreate on the lake — either fishing or boating — they'll have much easier access to open water," Parker said.

It isn't clear just when the view from Heagy-Burry Park will be back to normal.

"How long it takes lakes to rebound varies — there's no set time," said Largin of the water district, "but it was very dry over a long period, and Orange Lake was at record low levels."

Chester Catterton — owner of A&L Aquatic Weed Control in Citra — watched from the bank as his company's machine did its work Monday morning.

"I think the water levels are picking up across the state," he said. "(There's) a very good possibility we'll be doing similar work across the state."

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