Green Algae Nighmare

July 31, 2018.  The following letter was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.

My favorite guest columnist, Bob Knight, had another of his columns in the Chronicle’s Sunday Commentary section espousing the value of having healthy, flowing, unpolluted springs.  Adjacent to Dr. Knight’s column was a special to the Chronicle by John Moran highlighting the horrific conditions to our south where watershed mismanagement and nutrient rich runoff are again impacting ecosystems in Lake Okeechobee, the adjoining St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and downstream coastal areas and communities as far away as St. Lucie to the east and Fort Myers to the west.

These toxic, guacamole-like summer slime events have become the new normal, bringing new meaning to the term “draining the swamp”, and leading to more reports of “dead zones”, fish kills, states of emergency and human health alerts.  Tourism is down, businesses are shutting their doors, people are being told to stay away from the water and long term health implications, especially for the very young, are causing much anxiety among parents.

Doctor Knight finished his column by encouraging us to vote for political candidates who are truly strong on enforcing environmental laws, and avoid voting for those who receive contributions from Big Business and Big Agriculture.

The problem is that I’ve yet to find a candidate who meets those criteria.  They all seem to place creating more business opportunities at the top of their priority list, not recognizing that having clean water is far more valuable to our tourism based local economy than any new business that could be brought in.

I’ll keep looking.

Oh, and in his column at the top of the page, I was glad to see that Mr. Mulligan avoided another encounter with one of our venomous vipers.  I’d miss his Out the Window columns.

Gary Rankel

 

Welcome to Citrus County

July 11, 2018.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

Methinks Citrus County is in for an impending tourism and population boom.

Decades of environmental mismanagement and persistent polluted runoff from Big Sugar are once again having catastrophic effects in Lake Okeechobee and associated estuarine areas as far away as St. Lucie to the east, Fort Myers to the west and The Everglades to the south.  Much to the chagrin of our neighbors to the south and east, the summertime slime events coupled with recurring red tide bloom and doom phenomena are becoming the new normal.

Residents of Tampa – St. Pete and other concrete jungles in the Sunshine State are coping with increasing urban sprawl and worsening traffic jams.  Attempts to escape the rat race and spend relaxing weekends on adjoining waterways are met with more traffic jams at boat ramps and on the water.  Finding spots of their own to float their boats and cast a line have become a challenge.

If I lived down there, I’d be looking north toward the more relaxed Nature Coast where bumper to bumper traffic is more tolerable, and I could paddle for hours in relatively pristine backcountry with only a few shorebirds and dolphins for company.

Our waters haven’t escaped the effects of nutrient overloading and reduced spring flow, however, we haven’t seen the widespread pollution, recurrent algae blooms and resultant die offs of fish, birds and other critters recently experienced in the Indian River, Mosquito Lagoon, Charlotte Harbor and other areas. Thanks to the joint efforts of local volunteers, interest groups and public officials, conservation lands have been protected and our bays and rivers are being rehabilitated.

Years of silt and lyngbya accumulation are being removed and restored areas are being replanted with native seagrasses. Contrary to some skepticism on my part, the new plantings are reportedly withstanding our annual migrations of munching manatees eyeing their new found salad bar.

Like it or not, the Suncoast Parkway is coming, making us a more desirable bedroom community and more popular visitor use destination.  Mr. Tamposi at Terra Vista has cleared large tracts expecting to welcome a new wave of boomers seeking to build above flood stage, hoping to improve their odds of riding out the next Big Blow and avoid the next mass evacuation, while still living within a 15 minute drive of awesome boating, paddling and fishing.

Methinks that Citrus County is in for an impending tourism and population boom.

 

Gary Rankel

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