Boat Launch Fee Proposal Additional Comments

May 19, 2019. The following are additional comments provided to the Citrus County Board of Commissioners on subject proposal.

Dear sirs:

I’d like to elaborate on the comments I made at the May 14, 2019 BOCC meeting regarding your proposal to impose launch fees at county boat ramps.  I previously submitted written comments on this proposal (copy provided below), and chose to focus my spoken comments on the need to hold public hearings on subject proposal prior to any vote, and to expedite the development of the new marina on the northern shore of the Cross Florida Barge Canal just west of the Hwy 19 bridge.

At the time I submitted my written comments, I did not realize that a BOCC vote to implement the proposal was planned for May 14, prior to conducting public hearings around the county to gather community input.  If I’m not mistaken, the only public hearing on the proposed fee program was held at your May 14 meeting, and that one wasn’t announced in the Chronicle until the day before.  I know at least three folks with strong views on the fee proposal who could not attend because of the short notice and other commitments.  I only found out about it four days before your meeting when I clicked on your agenda (which the great majority of folks in the community don’t do). 

I try to keep up on current events, but was not aware of related workshops that you indicate have been held.  Were these announced in the Chronicle?  I urge the BOCC to hold at least two or three well publicized (in the Chronicle) hearings to gather community input before voting on any particular combination of fees and related measures, whether or not they are implemented in full or phased in.

I was surprised when Commissioner Kitchen spoke out against even holding a public comment period following subject presentation, and appreciate Chairman Kinnard’s decision allowing it to proceed.  In my 35 years of government service, I’ve held several public hearings that I would have just as soon skipped, because I considered them part of my job.  The public deserves its chance to speak, whether you like what they have to say or not.  You never know when someone alerts you to some unintended consequence of a program that you haven’t thought of.   

On my second issue, I suggested that you redirect and expedite your efforts to obtain funding for the development of the new boat marina on the barge canal.  Anyone who spends time on the water between Yankeetown and Chassahowitzka knows what a mess we have at our county ramps.  No amount of fee money collected and spent on our existing ramps is going to resolve this problem because of space limitations and environmental considerations, including manatee protection concerns.  We need to address the forest while treating a few diseased trees.   

When I retired to Citrus County 13 years ago, one of my first purchases was a motorized jon boat to access county waters.  After several occasions waiting in line to launch, and than again to reload, I sold my boat and learned how to fish from a kayak, so that I could escape the chaos and enjoy a relaxing day on the water instead of a frustrating one.  I’ve put in my kayak and fished most of our county’s lakes, rivers and inland areas, created and manage the Nature Coast Kayak Fishers and related website (fishingkayaks.us), and am very familiar with our water access and related parking problems.

Clearly, the only solution to resolving our water access / parking problem is for one or more new facilities to be created in the county, and the the most logical place for one is on the barge canal. 

Your Capital Improvement Program includes a $5 million entry for the design and construction of the new marina (Project 2007-07).  However, it is one of more than 150 projects to be considered for funding over the next five years, at a total cost of more than $258 million.  I regard the CIP as little more than a “wish list”, akin to a child’s list of 20 things they want from Santa next Christmas, but expecting to get maybe two or three.  As I understand it, if the marina is not funded during the five year period, it would be pushed out of the planning period, and, even if it is funded, it would not be operational until 2023 at the earliest.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I can’t see that any requests for grants to fund the marina through the Federal Gulf Coast Restoration Fund (RESTORE Act) and Florida State Boating Improvement Program, have been submitted.  Project 2019-02 in your CIP shows no future RESTORE funds even contemplated for the marina in the next five years.  Neither, as far as I can see, has the BOCC, Representative Massullo or Senator Simpson placed priority on this project when requesting earmarks through the state budget, as they have with many other county priorities. 

My 35 year career as a biologist and Program Manager administering an annual $70 million outdoor recreation appropriation and associated grant program at the Department of the Interior, provided me with insight into the budget formulation process.  Like you, I’ve had to decide which of many competing and worthwhile programs and projects to fund given budgetary constraints.  I understand the desire to seek revenue wherever it can be found.      

It won’t be long before the new parkway will be operational.  The red tide and blue-green algae problems to the south have severely impacted sport fisheries, resulting in the imposition of catch-release only regulations, and an increasing number of anglers heading north for a chance to bring home a fresh fish dinner for their families.  Increasing numbers of active adults settling down in The Villages, Top of the World and other nearby retirement communities will be looking for the kind of quality water-based experiences that Citrus County can provide. 

I’m a big advocate of the user-pays concept for funding projects, and believe that a sensible boat launch fee program coupled with a new Cross Florida Barge Canal marina could go a long way toward relieving stress at our ramps.  Your fee program by itself will allow for limited maintenance and small improvements projects only, without relieving the stress that our private boat owners, fishing captains, kayak businesses and tourists face each year.   

In conclusion, I’d like to make one more pitch to have BOCC staff contact Mr. George Decker, owner of the property adjoining Pirates Cove in Ozello, to discuss acquiring or leasing his property to create an exceptional paddling, small watercraft and ecotourism park, which would further alleviate the stress on our existing launch sites, while providing a great addition to the county’s tourism program. 

One final note: Commissioner Coleman, please reconsider stepping down from the BOCC, but, if not, thanks for your service.  You’re calm, thoughtful approach to problem solving will be missed.

Thank you for your consideration,

Gary Rankel     

Gary Rankel aka PackerYaker
Peaceful Paddles, Tight Lines and Happy Landings
Kayak Fishing – Nature Coast (http://fishingkayaks.us)