Public gets update on Silver Springs' transition to state park
Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.
OCALA -- A wide-ranging public forum meant to address some of the issues that face Silver Springs -- ranging from the impending turnover of the park to the state to how a proposed cattle ranch could impact water quality issues -- drew more than 150 people to the park on Saturday.
Held in the historic Cypress Room at the park, representatives from different state agencies explained and gave updates on issues surrounding the springs.
One of the more contentious issues addressed was a planned cattle ranch in the Fort McCoy area, which opponents argue would further damage the springs.
Mike Register of the St. John's River Water Management District said Adena Springs Ranch had responded to the state's latest request for more information. The response was received on April 18 and the state is bound to respond in 30 days.
"I am pretty confident we will be sending another request for additional information. There is still some more information we need in order to make a decision on this permit," Register said.
Adena Springs initially discussed pumping as much as 27 million gallons of water a day to irrigate some of the 30,000 acres of land the ranch would cover. The latest official request has dropped to 5.3 million gallons, an amount opponents say is still too much and would further lower water levels at the springs. Contamination from the waste produced by the cattle is also a concern.
The April response from Adena addressed St. Johns' request for more specifics on potential water withdrawal and how the farm would dispose of animal waste from about 17,000 head of cattle.
The specifics of the response were not discussed on Saturday.
Contamination of the aquifer from the surface is a particular concern in the area as Marion County sits at the heart of the major recharge area for the Floridan aquifer, which runs under most of Florida and up into South Carolina. It is the main source of drinking water for the state.
The aquifer is recharged mainly by rain, which percolates down from the surface more readily in a strip of land that winds down the state and includes all of Marion County.
"The groundwater in (this) area is highly susceptible to things people do on the surface of the land," said Harley Means of the Florida Geological Survey.
Means said the makeup of the land, with little clay or other less porous material, allows surface water to carry contamination more easily into the aquifer and eventually into the surrounding springs.
Silver Springs and the Silver River are fed by a string of 30 different springs with 69 vents.
The headwaters of Silver Springs have for about 150 years drawn tourists and eventually were turned into an attraction. The state bought the land in 1993, but allowed its operation to continue through a succession of private companies.
Earlier this year, Palace Entertainment reached a deal where it would be let out of the lease to operate Silver Springs. The state will take it over and make Silver Springs a state park.
Palace agreed to pay $4 million to the state to help pay for removal of certain attractions, like the Jeep Safari, children's play area and the petting zoo.
Lewis Scruggs, with the Florida Parks Service, said the plans for removal of those attractions are moving forward and should start soon, after the permitting process is complete.
"Yes. You have to get building permits to tear something down," Scruggs said.
Meanwhile, the overall plan for the park as an ecotourist destination, as well as a cultural and historical site, is also continuing. The state is currently sifting through decades of park archives to select items to include in the state's archives. An archaeological survey of the area is also planned.
"With more than a hundred years of activity, I suspect much of that has been destroyed by construction at one point or another," he said.
The headwaters of the springs were active with human activity for hundreds of years and were the site of a permanent native American settlement as early as the 1500s.
The ultimate goal for the park is to provide recreation for visitors. As such, there are plans to include a canoe and kayak launch from the headwaters of the springs. For decades, that area has been closed off to only the glass-bottom boats, which also will continue to operate.
One of the biggest changes is the price of admission. Instead of the $44.99 currently charged, the state plans to charge $8 per carload.
Transfer of the park takes place officially at midnight on Sept. 30.