Silver Springs' restoration depends on money from Palace
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
The effort to restore “Nature's Theme Park” to as natural a state as possible will go as far as Palace Entertainment's money will carry it, environmental regulators say.
While the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has identified $6.3 million worth of work it would like to do at Silver Springs, any efforts to reverse the deterioration at the springs will have to come from the $4 million Palace agreed to pay the state to buy out its lease, a department spokesman said Friday.
The $6.3 million wish list drawn up by the state is bound by the fiscal reality of the state budget and what Palace is willing to dole out, DEP press secretary Pat Gillespie suggested.
“It doesn't mean we will do all of it, so we don't consider there to be a gap,” Gillespie said.
“Our parks staff will get as much accomplished with the $4 million in work from Palace as it can in preparation of the October opening. So, staff will work with Palace on choosing projects that will best accomplish that goal.”
Gillespie added that Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget for 2014 contains $19 million for improvements at all of Florida's state parks — a network of about 170 parks, trails and recreation areas.
Per its deal with the state, which was ratified in January by Scott and the Cabinet, Palace will spend up to $4 million on improvements before vacating the park on Sept. 30.
Gillespie said state officials were pleased to get that much from the California-based theme park operator, which has run Silver Springs since 2002.
According to Gillespie, state officials calculated that Palace would have paid about $10 million over the remaining life of its lease, originally set to expire at the end of 2029.
The DEP first sought $5 million from Palace. Palace balked, and the parties eventually settled on $4 million.
“We were thrilled to get that amount of work, because Palace could have walked away and left us stuck in litigation with a park of animals and attractions that we wouldn't be able to manage,” Gillespie said.
“But they stepped up to the table, negotiated with us and have agreed to work on this transition.”
DEP staffers began developing the projects back in December, he said.
The bulk of Palace's funding will finance a parkwide face-lift, spent removing and replacing or reworking buildings and infrastructure that time and a lack of attention have turned into eyesores.
As for the planned environmental restoration, the DEP will concentrate on trying to reduce the nitrate loading that has been blamed for ruining the luster of Silver Springs' output.
In short DEP officials want to better control stormwater runoff, upgrade the sewer system and eliminate direct discharges of pollutants into the springs.
“Those were goals developed by staff in order to turn the park into a more natural state while eliminating discharges that could be harmful to Silver Springs,” Gillespie explained.
The project list notes that asphalt in the parking lots will be torn out, new water and drainage pipes will be installed, sewer lines will be cleaned and repaired, and the lift stations that move the sewage around the system will be modernized.
DEP officials have also indicated they want to dig out a network of swales around the park's historic gardens as an additional stormwater control measure.
In all, based on DEP's reported estimate, the environmental projects could amount to about $1.2 million.
McKinney Building Co. in Gainesville will be the main contractor. That was Palace's choice.
But Gillespie was confident they would perform to the agency's satisfaction.
The revised lease agreement from January stipulates that the contractor must work “efficiently,” he noted, and that the DEP will monitor the progress, including making on-site inspections and reviewing payments to the company twice monthly.
“The department has assurances to make sure the work is done well and completed before Oct. 1,” Gillespie said.
He added that Palace is expected to ensure that everything is done before Oct. 1.
A DEP report indicates that a final inspection is scheduled to take place around Labor Day.
If Palace does not meet the deadline, Gillespie said, the company will have to pay the state for the work that is not completed.
Marion County Commissioner Stan McClain has suggested that the concessionaires the DEP plans to contract with for some services would have to conduct their own environmental assessment for their part of the operation. However, Gillespie said that's not required of them.
Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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