May 21, 2017…….The following guest column I submitted to the Citrus County Chronicle was published in today’s edition.
Are we about to lose the million dollars that has been set aside by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for visitor facilities and improvements on the property adjacent to Three Sisters Springs (Property)?
As reported in the May 10 Chronicle, the Crystal River City Council (City) voted to terminate its agreement with the Service and takeover management of the Property from the Service, if a new, mutually acceptable agreement between the parties is not reached in six months. Should this happen, Service personnel warn that its set-aside funds will not be spent on the Property.
I’m not too concerned about who manages the property. Both the City and Service are capable of doing so given adequate funding and staffing, the future of which is uncertain for both parties.
More importantly, I’d like to see the set-aside funds retained, and not re-programmed to other Service facilities. As someone who has managed Service programs in the field and administered a sizeable appropriation at the Interior Department, I’m familiar with appropriations law and agency budgeting procedures. I’d be surprised if the Service has not already begun lining up alternative landing spots for these funds.
Should the Service lose its lead management role, new statutory language or direction from the Congress would probably be required to ensure that the funding appropriated for use on the Property, is spent on the Property.
According to a report in the May 11 Chronicle, Adam Thomas, Director of the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau, believes that management of the Property by City personnel will result in fewer tourists to our area. As long as manatees continue enjoying their winter months at Three Sister Springs, and the Service maintains its presence there managing them (which it would regardless of who manages the Property), I don’t see how City management would have a deleterious effect on tourism, provided it has the resources to do so. If anything, the City would be more inclined than the Service to promote visitor use.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Thomas, along with County Commissioner, Ron Kitchen, Jr., also believe that the City should not turn to the county if it requires funding assistance to manage or improve the Property. Does anyone believe that funding would be forthcoming from the State?
Hopefully, the City and Service can negotiate a new set of mutually acceptable roles and responsibilities for the Property over the next few months. Failure to do so could leave the City with a lead management role, with inadequate funds to improve the Property.
Submitted by Gary Rankel