Three Sisters Springs Update

April 14, 2018.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

In its April 12 editorial, the Chronicle opined that the Three Sisters Springs property currently is, and should continue to be, managed as a national wildlife refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not as a park by the City of Crystal River, in part because that’s what the founders of the property intended.  In reality, the property has never been, and will never be managed as a traditional wildlife refuge.  It is and always will be managed as a multi-use outdoor recreation area with the primary purpose of protecting the manatee, while affording the public opportunities to interact with them, while enjoying the area’s natural beauty.

Recent plans submitted by the USFWS and city propose similarly managing the property to accommodate public uses compatible with the primary purpose.  Each calls for the development of fishing piers or docks, hiking and biking trails and a visitor center, as well as hosting festivals and other events.  In reviewing both plans, I see little difference in the types of improvements proposed and public uses envisioned.

While joint management of the property remains desirable, someone has to have the final say to prevent continued inaction.  Should that be the city, I find it hard to believe that its leaders would be so shortsighted as to jeopardize its primary cash cow by turning this site into something it shouldn’t be.

Assuming that both the USFWS and city can effectively manage Three Sisters relative to its primary purpose, the key determinant should come down to who can best secure the funding needed to improve and manage the property.  The success of the city this year in getting a $400.000 State grant to fund needed improvements, coupled with the uncertainty of future federal appropriations to the USFWS, suggests that the City may be better positioned to do so, especially considering the tourism value of this property to the state, relative to the Federal Government, and this Administration’s meat ax approach to the budget.

The $1 million earmarked for Three Sisters in the USFWS budget should be used for that purpose, regardless of which entity assumes the lead management role.  If need be, I’m sure that our elected state and federal representatives would join forces in drafting legislation to make that happen.

Gary Rankel

More Three Sisters

March 16, 2018.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

Going it Alone

Two major takeaways from the Chronicle’s March 14 front page article concerning the future management of the Three Sisters Springs property are evident.  First and foremost, after a year or so of trying, and despite what many had hoped, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and City of Crystal River have failed to agree on a plan for jointly managing the property.  It now appears that the future management of the property will be in accordance with one of the two plans submitted by the entities with little, if any, cooperation envisioned between them going forward.

Secondly, while the USFWS claims to have about $1 million in its budget for improvements on the property, the expenditure of which seemingly hinges upon approval of its plan, future USFWS proposals to develop and manage the property are admittedly contingent on the growing uncertainty in the federal budget process which is already resulting in millions of dollars in cuts to related federal agency programs.  The USFWS demand in its proposal to begin receiving 30 percent of annual property entrance fees (funds which have been going to the City), reflects its concern over budget uncertainty, and was, no doubt, a deal breaker as far as the City was concerned.

The two sets of development projects for the property proposed by the City and USFWS outlined in the article have much in common, and I continue to believe that either entity can do a good job managing the property separately, if need be.  Given the new demand by the USFWS for 30 percent of ticket proceeds, I’ll be shocked if the City doesn’t move forward with its proposed management plan.  Requests for State and grant funding will no doubt follow which, I expect, would receive favorable consideration.  Whether all or a portion of the existing $1 million in the USFWS budget could be used for development projects on the property, even in the absence of a lead USFWS role, should also be explored.

Gary Rankel

Managing the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

January 20, 2018.   The following Letter to the Editor was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

Recent daily editions of the Chronicle have included inserts from the The Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (Friends) imploring readers to write Governor Scott and Crystal River City Council members asking them to support a continued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) lead role in managing the Three Sisters Springs property (property), rather than having the City of Crystal River (City) assume that role.  The insert states or implies that City takeover of property management would be detrimental to the manatee, and shift 100% of the cost for improving the property to the City and its taxpayers.

As a Friends member, I support their mission, but have a different take on this issue.

Last year, the Service informed the City that it would not spend additional money on property improvements without first updating the management agreement between the parties, reasserting its continued lead role.  The City then voted to terminate that agreement and assume management control of the property if a mutually acceptable agreement could not be reached in six months.  That period has passed, and a decision may be forthcoming at the January 22 City Council meeting.

Clearly, the Service and City have experienced difficulties in defining and agreeing on their shared roles, responsibilities and priorities for managing the property.  Regardless of who exercises the lead property management role (and I doubt that a City lead would result in harm to the resource), the Service will continue to maintain its presence and lead role in managing manatees as per the Endangered Species Act.  It will also continue its lead role as manager of the lands and waters contained within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  The City, along with the County, will maintain its primary interest in promoting tourism.

As is often the case, key questions and decisions revolve around money.

If the Service loses its lead management role for the property, will the funding appropriated in its budget for property improvements be re-programmed to other areas, as Service personnel have suggested?  Given this Administration’s budget requests proposing large reductions for Service and other environmental programs in 2018, with similar prospects in subsequent years, how much money will remain available in future Service budgets for property improvements, not to mention refuge operations and visitor use programs?  If the City assumes the lead role in property management, and Service money is not available, how will future improvements be funded?  Can State grants be awarded?  Can county funds be obtained?

Service and City officials will need to maintain a high degree of cooperation regardless of which entity carries out the lead role in managing the Three Sisters Property.  Hopefully they can negotiate a new set of mutually acceptable roles, responsibilities and funding arrangements.  As a former Service employee and program manager, I believe an agreement can and should be reached which retains available property improvement funding regardless of lead and supporting roles.

Gary Rankel,  Citrus Hills, Florida


Improve the quality of Citrus county waters

November 24, 2017.  My following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

Thanks to Senator Simpson, and to the Chronicle for its November 19 Opinion supporting his plan to improve the quality of county waters by removing and replacing polluting septic tanks with a modern central sewer system.

I’ve read far too many articles, commentaries and opinions praising recent misguided efforts to “save our waters” or “save our bay” by raking, harvesting, vacuuming or dredging up deposited muck and Lyngbya.  They generally fail to mention the resultant impacts of increased turbidity and the accelerated dispersal of deposited nutrients and Lyngbya to adjacent areas, thereby promoting further algae blooms and facilitating the expansion of Lyngbya infestations.

Rarely, have I seen acknowledgements that such efforts are temporary, requiring repeated cleaning, over and over again, as nutrients, notably nitrogen and phosphorus, from sewage effluent and fast-release fertilizers continue entering our aquifer and surface waters.

Many articles have gone on to applaud the planting of Rockstar vegetation in these “cleaned” areas, often not mentioning the unsightly fences needed to protect these patches from the next wave of manatees seeking a nice snack to munch on.  Seagrass and other macrophyte planting programs should be considered, but only once the causes of their demise are addressed, and conditions favoring their survival over competitive nutrient loving nuisance species are achieved.

I’ve yet to read an authoritative report confirming any lasting effect of these “clean-up” efforts, or any sustained reestablishment of the Rockstar vegetation once the fencing has been removed welcoming the manatees in to chow down.

It’s about time we abandon these quick fixes which simply address the symptoms of the problem, and redirect the millions of dollars wasted on them to tackle its root causes: nutrient overloading and retention resulting from septic tank leakage and over-fertilization.

Our elected representatives need to recognize our budget limitations and become more fiscally responsible by prioritizing cost-effective programs and actions that will make a lasting difference.  Resources are simply not available to fund everyone’s pet projects, no matter how well-intentioned.  Supporting ineffective efforts may create a few jobs and help gain a few more votes, but that’s not what good leaders do.

Ditto for half-hearted fast-release fertilizer restrictions.

Other high priority actions deserving of funding and attention to protect our waters include wetland restoration to aid in nutrient filtration and the curtailment of groundwater pumping throughout the watershed to improve spring flows and increase flushing activity.  Amendment 1 was recently approved by voters to fund just such programs.

It’s probably too late to restore Kings Bay to former Rainbow River standards, but let’s not let it become the next Indian River Lagoon or Lake Okeechobee, where nutrient overloading and resultant algae blooms have devastated once diverse ecosystems.

Hopefully, by next year’s Save our Waters Week, our leaders will be doing just that by placing their highest priority on supporting Senator Simpson’s funding proposal.

Gary Rankel
Citrus Hills, Florida

Letter to the Editor of the Citrus County Chronicle

August 12, 2017.  My following letter to the editor was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

I love reading my morning newspaper.  The first thing I do each morning, after making my first pot of coffee, is settle into my comfy rocker-recliner to check out the breaking news.  Unlike what I see on cable TV, most of it seems to be real, not fake.
I’ve tried reading those newfangled online e-papers, but have the darndest time figuring out how to enlarge the print and turn the page.  So, I’ll continue stumbling out in the dark each morning searching my driveway for the real thing.
My job took me to Long Island, California’s redwood country and the nation’s capital, where my days began with the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post.  Now, my morning ritual begins with the Citrus County Chronicle.
So, instead of learning if President Trump managed to drain the swamp overnight (or drown in it), I now find out which roads in uninhabited Citrus Springs neighborhoods got paved, and which county commissioner is on the hot seat.  And, instead of reading whether Obamacare or Trumpcare is gaining steam, I learn how much muck has been removed from Kings bay, how the folks in Ozello are doing in keeping a condominium complex from being built in their back yards and how disruptive swimmers have been to our cherished manatee.
The Chronicle does usually include a one-page Nation & World section which attempts to summarize the goings on around the globe, but I also subscribe to the Tampa Bay Times and USA Today, just in case it misses something.  I enjoy all three, but now look forward to the Chronicle’s coverage of the community and Nature Coast area that I’ve come to call home.
I especially enjoy the editorial section and Publisher Gerry Mulligan’s witty Sunday column, and occasionally submit a letter to the editor attempting to match his wit.
I bypass the Sound Off section, believing that transparency should prevail, and anyone feeling a need to convey their bits of wisdom should reveal their identity.  I do read the letter submittals, but wish those chosen would focus more on local and regional issues, and less on the all too frequent polarizing expressions of political partisanship.  Folks can tune into CNN, MSNBC or Fox News for that.
After all, it is a community newspaper, is it not, as Mr. Mulligan appeared to proclaim in recent recurring ads posing with arms crossed and peering out at his readership?  I do wonder, however, why this community paper includes a separate Community page.
Yes, I do miss my Washington Post, but not the daily bumper-to-bumper rush hour commutes to and from Washington, D.C.  Rush hour commuters I now encounter consist of a few of my neighbors traveling bumper to bumper in their carts on their way to the first hole of our nearby golf course.  I smile and wave as I pass them by with my kayak on board, failing to understand why anyone would choose to chase after a little white ball than spend a relaxful morning on the water with fishing pole in hand.
I do continue to encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic while passing by our boat ramps, most at a standstill waiting in long lines to launch their vessels.  I don’t smile and wave at them because, like Washington, D.C. commuters, they don’t look happy, and probably wouldn’t wave back.
Maybe some of these boaters will share their experiences in future Letters to the Editor.  No Sound Offs, please.