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.

Letter to the Citrus County Chronicle

August 3, 2017.   My following letter to the editor was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.

As an avid angler, I always look forward to the fishing reports on the back page of the Chronicle’s Thursday sports section.  In a recent report, Rick Burns, who I knew from his days managing the Floral City Anglers Club several years ago (Hey, Rick), posed a number of questions, including the following.  How come you can do no wrong fishing at one place one day, and then go back to the same place the next day using the same stuff, and catch nothing?  And, how come some fish show up in one place one year and not the next?

I also have a question.  How come 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish?  And, more importantly, how come I’m always one of the 90% catching only 10% of the fish?  Lately, it seems like I’m one of the 99% catching only 1% of the fish.

I never miss Captain William Toney’s contribution to the weekly report on what’s biting and where along the Nature Coast, and Captain Dan Clymer’s online blog describing the boatloads of fish that his clients bring to the docks each day, searching for a clue on where I should go and what I should use to duplicate their success.  I’m quite sure these guys are among the 10% of anglers who catch 90% percent of the fish.

I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out why, no matter how hard I try, I’m still in the 90% group who catch 10% of the fish, or worse.  Is it because, unlike the good captains, I can’t seem to locate the 10% of area where 90% of the fish reside?.  Or, maybe, of the fish who spot my lure, the smartest 90% recognize it as being a fraud, leaving only the dumbest 10% of fish residing in the 90% of the least productive water to chew on it?  Or, could it be that Captain Dan’s and William’s happy clients catch 90% of the available fish, leaving only 10% for me?

Whatever my problem is, I’ve decided to find a hiding spot in the mangroves along the river and wait for Captain Dan or William to motor by with their next group of clients, at which time I’ll follow them out to their secret hotspots.  Since I fish in a kayak, I’ll have to paddle like h_ _ _ to keep them in sight, but it will be worth it to finally join the 10% club.

Once I do, I’m 100% certain that, along with the rest of the 10% club, I’ll not be sharing my secrets with the other unfortunate 90%!  And, fish stocks need not fear, since I release at least 90% of the fish I catch.

Pirates Cove Letter

June 18, 2017.  My following letter was sent to county and state officials on this date, and an abbreviated version of it was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on July 5, 2017.


Scott Carnahan, Citrus County Commissioner; Ronald Kitchen,       Citrus County Commissioner; Brian Coleman, Citrus County Commissioner;  Jimmie Smith, Citrus County Commissioner; Jeff Kinnard, Citrus County Commissioner;  Wilton Simpson, Florida State Senator;  Ralph Massullo, Jr.  Florida State Representative

Cc:  Randy Oliver, Citrus County Administrator;  Mark Green,                 Director, Growth Management Department;   Joanna Coutu,             Director, Land Development Division;   Laura Marley,              Principal Planner, Land Development Division;   Adam Thomas             Director, Visitors and Convention Bureau;   Bruce McLaughlin     Bruce McLaughlin Consulting Services, Inc.;   John Green                    Committee to Save Ozello

From:      Gary Rankel,    Retired, Citrus Hills, Florida

Subject:  Pirate’s Cove Development Application CPA/AA/PUD-17-05

Since 2012, Mr. George Decker of Kodak, Tennessee has submitted applications to develop a resort condominium complex on his 3.6 acres of mostly vacant property known as Pirate’s Cove in Ozello (www.ozello.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Attachment-4-Zoning-and-ELU.pdf) .  This property once housed a restaurant, tavern and 10-unit motel / RV complex that was destroyed by the “no-name” storm in March 1993.

The property rests a few feet above sea level in the ecologically sensitive St. Martin’s Marsh and Aquatic Preserve, and adjacent to the county-owned Ozello Community Park.  Surrounding navigable waters support a broad array of fish and wildlife, including manatees and other species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Having failed to win county approval of past proposals, Mr. Decker has submitted the new subject application for consideration (www.ozello.net/pirates-cove-land-owners-plans/ ).  To proceed with his plans, the acreage would first have to be re-zoned from Coastal and Lakes Residential to Coastal and Lakes Commercial, to conform with the two small parcels already listed as CLC on the county’s Current Zoning Map.  These same two parcels, however, are listed as CLR on the county’s Future Land Use Map, which seems puzzling.

The community of Ozello has consistently opposed Mr. Decker’s proposals, continues to believe that his current application is incompatible with the area, and has formed the Committee to Save Ozello  (www.ozello.net) to organize resistance to his ideas.  I’d like to join the community in recommending rejection of subject application, and propose doing so in conjunction with a follow-up plan to expand the tourism and outdoor recreation values of the area for the overall benefit of the county.  Simply rejecting the application without following through would leave the property vacant, thereby inviting future development proposals in this environmentally sensitive areas.

As an avid angler and retired biologist with more than 30 years of experience managing and developing fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation resources, I have long felt that kayak fishing has received short shrift in the county’s tourism program, and that Pirate’s Cove should serve as the centerpiece in a series of eco-tourism destinations for paddlers, anglers, picnickers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts to enjoy (http://fishingkayaks.us/no-motor-zone/) .  The larger and better known paddling sites in the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons on the Space Coast, and Tampa and Sarasota Bays to the south may remain more popular, however, they can’t begin to provide the same uncrowded “Old Florida” experience of the relatively unspoiled Nature Coast.

Within a short paddle of the Pirate’s Cove property, folks can encounter manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, a variety of shorebirds and other marine life in gorgeous backcountry settings.  Excellent fisheries habitat exists around miles of mangrove shorelines, extensive salt marshes, sea grass beds, oyster bars and hard bottom substrates, all of which serve as nursery areas for fish and and the critters they feed on.  Seatrout, redfish, snook, flounder and other species are there for the taking.

Paddlesports, including kayaking, paddleboarding and kayak fishing are the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the country, with Florida and California leading the way in numbers of users.  The suitability of  Ozello to host such activities is nicely depicted by the Kayakbeach folks at http://kayakbeach.com/ozello/ozello.html and on my website (http://fishingkayaks.us).

Anglers and eco-tourists in their plastic vessels can paddle west three miles to the Gulf and search for shell middens on Mullet Key, which was inhabited by Native Americans in pre-Columbian times and added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1986.  From there, it’s a short paddle to the adjacent Sandy Hook Key for a swim in the expansive sandy area on its north side, and to the nearby Bird Keys, a popular bird nesting area.  Others may want to head east to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the remote Salt River backcountry, where you can paddle for hours without seeing another soul.  Anglers looking to bring home a fresh fish dinner are rarely disappointed, and are assured of quality experiences even on slow fishing days.

An eco-tourism oriented park at Pirate’s Cove would offer the perfect complement to the county’s headline attractions including manatee interactions, scalloping, biking and offshore fishing.  Such an area would have broad local and regional appeal, require minimal maintenance and provide solid benefit-cost rewards. Overnight camping, parking and launching fees could be considered to generate revenue if desired.  Lots identified on the County Owned Parcels map at the Northwest and Southeast edges of Sanddollar Lane might be incorporated into the park.  The site would undoubtedly be included on popular kayak fishing tournament circuits.

Mr. Decker’s condominiums, sewage system and other structures would, no doubt, end up in this pristine marine ecosystem during the next “no-name’ storm or hurricane, resulting in significant impacts to both the environment and listed species.  Doing nothing more than rejecting his re-zoning request would still leave the property subject to being divided into six or more lots for six or more residences, six or more septic tanks and numerous related structures, possibly causing as much damage to the environment as the condo complex.

Conversely, an eco-tourism park would require only portable and easily transportable structures such as porta-jons, picnic tables, stationary grills, and, perhaps, a small kayak rental and food service trailer, all of which could be secured in place or safely cleared from the site before arrival of the next “big blow”, leaving it in its natural state.  Related service and caretaker jobs could be made available to the community.

For a Pirate’s Cove park to become reality, Mr. Decker would have to become a partner or willing seller, an unlikely result if his property is re-zoned for commercial purposes.  Commission support, along with that of Senator Simpson and Representative Massullo, would be required to rank this park project high enough to compete successfully for a portion of the $4 million in RESTORE Act funds assigned to the county from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, or to warrant an earmark in the state’s budget, as occurred with recent set-asides for Riverwalk and land acquisition for a park in Homosassa.

Stranger things have happened as when the former owners of the Three Sisters Springs property agreed to sell for a more noble cause.

Nothing will happen without your support and leadership.

Mr. Decker’s representative is Mr. Bruce McLaughlin; Bruce McLaughlin Consulting Services, Inc.; Indian Rocks; Florida.


Three Sisters Springs

June 18, 2017.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

The picture of Three Sisters Springs on the front page of Sunday’s Chronicle and Monday’s related article reminded me of last month’s vote by the Crystal River City Council to assume management of the adjacent property from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the two entities couldn’t agree on a new management plan within a six-month period.

Since then, President Trump has released next year’s budget request proposing a $10.4 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the USFWS, including $2.1 million for visitor services.  He also proposes cuts of $13.2 million in the National Wildlife Refuge Fund, $34.1 million in the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and $7.8 million in the agency’s construction budget.

How these cuts would affect funding and staffing at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs and adjoining Three Sisters Springs property is unclear.

The USFWS has asserted that the expenditure of $1 million in its budget earmarked for improvements on the property is contingent on it retaining its lead management role.

In the interest of transparency, the USFWS should identify the source of this funding and specify what language it has received providing direction on how and when this money should be used.  What related language is included in USFWS budget documents?  What will happen to this funding if the city assumes management of the property?

Local USFWS officials should also explain how the recent decision to down-list the manatee from Endangered to the less restrictive Threatened status might further impact its management program on the refuge and property.

In the absence of such information, how can city officials make an informed decision relative to assuming management of the property?

If the city and USFWS cannot renegotiate a mutually acceptable agreement outlining shared management roles, responsibilities and obligations, resulting in the loss of critical funding, what would be the plan for providing improvements on the property, and how would they be funded?

For anyone interested, the mentioned USFWS budget be accessed at https://www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations/2018/highlights.

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills, Florida

Minimum Fool Levels

June 8, 2017.  The following letter to the editor was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.

This is a true story.  Only the facts have been changed to protect the integrity of scientific inquiry.

I was enjoying a latte at Cattle Dog the other day when these guys walk in and sit down at the table next to me.  I could tell they were scientists because they wore T-shirts with the words “Certified Scientist” printed in large letters on the front.  Having a scientific background myself, I asked what they were studying.

They indicated they were on loan from the White House, having been retained by the Governor and his Southwest Florida Water Management District to determine how much water could be pumped from Florida’s rivers and springs in support of new development.

Being familiar with SWFWMD’s recent decisions reducing flows on the Silver and Rainbow rivers, now subject to court challenge, and its just announced adoption of an 11 percent reduction in spring flow to Kings Bay, I asked them to divulge the scientific methodology they employed to justify such determinations.  After all, Dr. Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute, and other renowned experts, reportedly believe that spring flows into Kings Bay have already experienced steep drops leading to an array of water quality problems, and threatening the health of this ecosystem.

They assured me that their scientific methodology was state-of-the-art, and that the views of the other so-called experts were either misguided, or the result of Fake News generated by our local media.  They further guaranteed that the levels adopted would make Florida’s waterways and watersheds GREAT AGAIN.

I asked what qualifications they had to become Certified Scientists, and they said they all had received B’s or C’s in general science and biology in high school, thereby satisfying the hiring requirements and standards of both the White House and SWFWMD.

I then inquired about their next assignment, and they said they were on their way back to Washington, D.C. to finalize their work for the Administration confirming that global warming is a hoax invented by bleeding liberals and reported by the corrupt media.  Noting would stop them from making the world’s climate GREAT AGAIN.

As they were leaving, I suggested they consider a 20 year assignment studying minimum flow levels from the melting glaciers in Antarctica.

They seemed to think that was a good idea.

Perhaps they could take a few of the SWFWMD decision makers with them.

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills