Beware of the Bug

August 4, 2019. The following letter to the editor was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

A funny thing happened on my last kayak fishing trip in Ozello.  While trying to unhook a rambunctious ladyfish, it managed to sink two treble hooks into the palm of my hand.  

Similar past occurrences resulted in trips to the emergency room where attendant nurses managed to remove the piercing pieces of metal from numbed appendages, trying not to smile too broadly in the process.  This time, having bent down the barbs, I managed to extricate the hooks without further assistance.  

As I resumed my paddling / casting routine, I couldn’t help but think about recent articles I’ve read recounting how some folks contracted the flesh eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis, after cutting or scraping themselves on the water.  Some died and some survived following long stays in the ICU.

I understand this bug thrives in warm water, and the water I was fishing in felt like that in my wife’s bathtub.  It also flourishes in nutrient rich water, the kind resulting from recent blue-green algae outbreaks not far from us.   I wondered how much of the nutrient rich water has made its way to Ozello, and how much of the decaying organic matter, a result of the massive die-offs from last year’s red tide outbreak, has found its way up here to feed and stimulate growth of the NF population.   

It occurred to me that our warming climate will exacerbate such occurrences in the future.   They say the best way to avoid becoming infected by NF is to wash your hands frequently, but that’s kind of hard to do when you’re paddling around in a yak occasionally unhooking fish.   

I washed thoroughly when I returned home, and, so far, haven’t noticed any swelling, blisters or weird colored skin.   

From now on, I’ll be more careful unhooking fish.  No more wading around oyster bars.  I’ve also added a container of anti-bacterial wipes to my first aide kit.   

Pirates Cove Acquisition

July 29,2019: The following letter, published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle, was submitted to the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners.

Dear sirs:   Thank you for agreeing at yesterday’s meeting to explore the possibility of acquiring the 3+ acres of private property adjoining Ozello Community Park at Pirates Cove for the purpose of creating an enlarged and enhanced outdoor recreation park.  

Having fished this area frequently over the last 14 years, and, as a retired biologist with more than 30 years of experience managing and developing fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation resources, I’ve urged acquiring this property as an outstanding destination for paddlers, anglers, picnickers and other outdoor recreational enthusiasts.      

I disagree with the views of one Commissioner who suggested that this property is basically worthless because it sits within the flood zone and is not zoned for large projects.  On the contrary, the owner, in the absence of county acquisition, will no doubt propose zoning changes, smaller scale projects or, perhaps, dividing his real estate into home sites that may well receive BOCC approval.  Many feared the latest proposal would have been approved for the economic benefits it would have provided, had not the previous owner passed away prior to decision-making.    

An eco-tourism oriented park at this location would offer the perfect complement to the county’s tourist attractions including manatee interactions, scalloping, biking and offshore fishing.  It would have broad regional appeal, require minimal maintenance and provide solid long-term benefit–cost rewards.     Not only would this property expand and diversify tourism opportunities, it would have value in relieving the county’s severe crowding problem at Hunter Springs Park and other water access locations.    Subjecting this property to development or leaving it vacant providing no benefits to residents and visitors makes no sense.   

I understand the previous owner of this property purchased it in 2004 for $464,000, and that it is now appraised for $260,000.  

It behooves you to pursue serious negotiations with the owner for the purpose of reaching a fair and reasonable purchase price for this outstanding park site.      Acquisition of this property coupled with creation of a boat launch site on the barge canal would be game changers for the county.   

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

Minimum Flow Fiasco

June 9, 2019. The following letter appeared in yesterday’s Citrus County Chronicle.

I see that Florida’s elite water management agency, Swiftmud, will be holding a workshop to gather public comment about how much more water should be removed from the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka rivers to create suitable minimum flows.   

I’d like to suggest that personnel from that agency redirect their attention to the Arctic, and hold public hearings on the North Slope to determine minimum flow standards for the glaciers that are melting at record rates.  They need to take the folks from Heatherwood Investments, LLC along to help measure water discharge levels while filling their bottles at the same time.  And, of course, our distinguished representatives from the Florida Legislature who created the minimum flow program, will be needed to supervise.

Gary Rankel

Citrus Hills, Florida

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)

New Boat Launch Fee

March 6, 2019. The following letter was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.

Boat Launch Fees:  Beneficial or Boondoggle

The following summarizes comments I provided to the BOCC regarding its proposal to institute fees for launching watercraft at county boat ramps. 

Anyone spending time on our waterways recognizes the horrendous access and parking problem we have at our ramps.  I’ve spent hours at county launch sites waiting for dilly-dallying knuckleheads who seemed to mistake the ramps for campsites.  The frustration associated with the long holdups on both departing and returning segments of my “relaxing” days on the water helps explain why I now fish from a kayak.

Charging launch fees will not resolve the problem.  There simply isn’t enough space at existing sites to provide for additional access and parking without filling in valuable wetlands. 

New launch sites are needed. 

I’m aware of only two areas that, if developed, would significantly improve access and relieve pressure at existing ramps: the previously considered barge canal site for larger power boats, and the private property adjoining Pirates Point Community Park in Ozello for paddle and other small watercraft.   

A new ramp and parking area on the Barge Canal would be a godsend for boaters. 

The private property adjoining Pirates Point Park remains vacant following BOCC rejection of past environmentally unsound development proposals by the owner.  If purchased, it could be developed into a premier paddling, eco-tourism and kayak fishing destination with broad regional appeal. 

Development of these sites would relieve pressure at county ramps, while also expanding tourism opportunities.  Additional suggestions for improving paddling access are included under the Boosting Tourism link at http://fishingkayaks.us.

The community will certainly oppose the proposed fees.  Many will register opinions relative to their application to favor residents, seniors, veterans, paddlecraft users, etc. 

Opposition will expand greatly if the money collected is inadequate to produce observable improvements after paying for related administration, monitoring and enforcement efforts. 

BOCC: let’s get real.  Recognize that fees collected through the proposed program will be inadequate to create the new sites needed to significantly improve watercraft access unless combined with other sources of revenue that our elected representatives can help us obtain.  Development of an appropriate mix of programs, budget priorities and funding requests are necessary to resolve our water access problem.    

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills

Kayak, Fishing, Nature Coast, Club, Florida